Monthly Archives: August 2013
One of the reasons many experts from around the world are calling on Japan to seek more international assistance is that the problem is multifaceted and extremely serious.
Hindsight is always 20-20. And the past cannot be changed. What is tragic is not learning from past mistakes. And the Fukushima nuclear accident provides ample material to learn from.
The Fukushima plant was built to withstand a large earthquake, and Indeed it appears that the plant came thru the massive 3/11 quake relatively in tact. And its systems acted as they should. The plant began a shutdown of its reactors. The main power lines that provided electricity to the plant were badly damaged, but again the back up generators kicked in and provided the necessary electricity for the plant to continue the shutdown process.
That is when the tsunami hit. There was a 6 meter high sea wall built to protect the plant. The massive tsunami easily flowed over the seawall, flooded the plant and knocked out the back up generators. The plant had taken great precautions against possible earthquakes, but had woefully inadequate protection from tsunamis. In fact Tepco (Tokyo Electric Power Company) had ignored all warnings about the dire consequences if a tsunami were to hit the plant.
Lesson one: Scenarios that appear highly unlikely do occur. Mother nature is a force of great power and unpredictability. Man builds an “unsinkable” boat, the Titanic and it sinks on its maiden voyage. Our lack of preparedness is often due to our lack of imagination.
With the back up generators knocked out, the cooling system critical for preventing a meltdown no longer worked. Workers at the plant in desperation used car batteries in order to try and get some of the plants’ systems back online. Tepco headquarters in Tokyo received requests for all kinds of supplies for Fukushima as the crisis began to unfold, but when batteries to supply power to the plant were delivered by the Japanese Self Defense Forces, they were 2 volt batteries, not the 12 volt batteries the plant required. Sadly as three of the reactors experienced meltdown, 1000 12 volt batteries sat in storage a mere 55 km away.
Lesson two: After you’ve prepared for the worse, and disaster strikes, what is your plan to deal with disaster. Tepco seems to have had no plan on what materials would be crucial in a crisis and how they could be quickly delivered in an emergency. Since Tepco couldn’t imagine a situation where both their main power and their back up system failed, there was no planning on what could be done to provide power to the plant in such an event. Again the lack of belief in worse case scenarios, led to lack of preparation when they occurred.
The reactors were equipped with safety relief valves to vent steam if the pressure in a reactor got too high. These valves were very difficult to open without electricity. The workers were finally driven to venting off some of the contents of the reactors in a desperate move to avoid a full meltdown. However, some of the piping used in the process may have been damaged in the quake, as the venting didn’t work properly. The reactor’s containment chambers were built to withstand a large earthquake, but the piping was built to a lower standard.
Lesson three: The containment chamber is usually given the most attention in regards to safety, but the systems that are used to regulate its pressure and maintain its integrity must also be built to high standards.
The tragedy of Fukushima is that it was avoidable. It was the lack of imagination and preparation for what are extremely low probability events that led to the disaster. The higher the cost of failure, the more necessary it is to prepare for low probability events. Reactors are in use for decades, and over longer periods of time, improbable events can and do occur.
Many of the reactors online throughout the world are decades old. How prepared are they for these kinds of worst case scenarios? Or will we find out their unpreparedness only after the next disaster?
It appears that September is going to be a busy month for Apple computer. I posted an article below by Mark Gurman of 9 to 5 Mac detailing the rollout of a new IPhone trade in program by Apple. iPhone users will be able to go to their local Apple Store and trade their old iPhones for credit towards the purchase of a new iPhone.
This seems like a great marketing move by Apple. With competition in the smartphone arena heating up, the program will help ensure that current iPhone users continue as Apple customers. It should also boost sales of new iPhones as people decide to upgrade who maybe wouldn’t without the program.
The real question is, is this a good deal for the users. The credit towards a new iphone Apple is offering is certainly going to be less than what you get if you sold your old phone yourself by listing it on ebay. It all comes down to convenience. Trading in at an Apple Store is fast and saves the hassle of listing your old phone, perhaps negotiating with a buyer and shipping the phone. My advice would be doing some research before trading in your old phone. Search for your model (3,4,4S,5) on ebay and get an idea of the current market price and compare it with what Apple is offering you. If the difference is $100 or more, you might want to go the ebay route. $100 can buy quite a few apps and songs on itunes.
Apple is also expected to be introducing 2 new iPhone models in September, the 5S and the 5C. The 5C is rumored to be a lower end model of the iPhone in a plastic case.
I am currently using an iPhone 4S. (In fact this entire post was written along with many others on that very iPhone. ) I am anxious to see what the new 5S has to offer and whether the new trade in program will be offered in Japan.
Tell me what is on your wish list for the new 5S. Leave a comment below.
Yesterday I talked about how rich we all are. I also pointed out how many in this world are mired in poverty. Today I would like to talk about one way, we can help.
Since December I have been making regular microloans thru an organization called Kiva. Kiva serves as a conduit between individual lenders and entrepreneurs in the developing world. For example, a farmer in Kenya needs a loan of $500 to buy a tractor and fertilizer. Kiva puts his story up and individuals can choose to lend. The loan is divided into $25 slices. Once $500 is gathered the loan is funded. Individuals lend at 0%. The money goes to a local micro finance institutes which makes and services the loan. When the loan is repaid, you can either relend the money or withdraw it.
There has been considerable criticism of Kiva. One reason is the micro finance institutions or field partners tend to lend at high interest rates. Personally, this doesn’t concern me. I would prefer to make 0% loans, but that would make it impossible for the microlenders to survive. The important thing to me is that Kiva makes it possible for people to get loans that will improve their lives. Without Kiva many of these would be entrepreneurs would have no access to credit. As long as borrowers are better off when the loan is repaid, I believe Kiva is providing a benefit to the borrowers. The loan repayment rate is 99% so I don’t believe the borrowers are not benefitting. With the loans, they are able to start or expand small businesses or buy farming materials. Things they might not be able to do without Kiva.
If you would like to learn more, you can visit Kiva’s web site
You are far richer than you think. Most of us tend to think of rich people as the Bill Gates and Warren Buffets of this world. We never stop to consider just how fortunate we are.
Yesterday I gave a very basic description of what bitcoins are and how they can be sent from one person to another. The obvious question is, “I have a credit card or paypal account, why would I need or want to use bitcoin?”
Bitcoin supporters argue it has several advantages over fiat currencies:
1) Since there is no intermediary between 2 parties, a transaction done in bitcoins has almost 0 in transaction fees. This is a big advantage for merchants, since credit cards generally charge fees of up to 2-3%.
2) There is no central bank or government controlling the supply of bitcoins. In the current economic environment with many central banks greatly increasing the supply of their currencies, some worry that eventually the purchasing power of their currrncy will be eroded by future inflation. Bitcoin creation is slow and gradual and the supply is ultimately fixed. No one can devalue bitcoin by vastly increasing the supply.
3) Bitcoins can be sent to anyone over the internet anywhere in the world virtually instantly.
4) Bitcoin transactions are virtually anonymous. What shows up on the ledger is simply the wallet ids of the parties and any one person can have multiple wallets.
What about the disadvantages of bitcoin? Detractors point to the following?
1) Because of the anonymity of transactions, bitcoins can easily be used for various nefarious activities such as money laundering, or drug dealing.
2) The value of bitcoins versus fiat currencies can fluctuate dramaticly over short periods of time. As a merchant, do you want to accept something as payment when its value is subject to high volatility? When I wrote yesterday’s article, 1 bitcoin was trading for $106-107. A little over 24 hours later 1 bitcoin fetches $111.
3) Since bitcoins exist in the digital world, they can be lost just like any data. Bitcoins are stored in digital wallets. If you have yours on your home computer and your hard disk crashes, without a backup, the coins are loss. If your spouse has a significant amount of the family’s saving in bitcoins and has never shown you the location of the wallet(s) and or passwords, the coins are lost. Of course, a bit of precaution and planning can eliminate these hazards.
After thinking about the above, if you decide to take the plunge, how can you obtain some bitcoins? Other than mining them, which at this point is quite difficult without specialized moning gear, they can be bought on an online exchange, the largest of which is Mt Gox.
You will also need a wallet to store your coins. Here you have 3 choices, an online wallet, a wallet that resides on your computer or a wallet on your android based smartphone (Sorry Iphone users, apple has decided not to allow any wallet app). A good guide to obtaining a wallet can be found here.
What does the future hold for bitcoin? At 4 years old, bitcoin is going strong. The current size of the bitcoin economy is estimated at over 1 billion USD and growing. However as the currency has grown in size and acceptance, so has government scrutiny, especially in the US. From the SEC, the IRS, the FBI to Homeland Security, many government agencies are looking for more regulation of bitcoin. I believe the coming year will see greater regulation of bitcoin. It will be interesting to see how the bitcoin community reacts and evolves under greater government regulation.
Bitcoin is an electronic cryptocurrency. The origin of bitcoin dates back to 2008, when a paper written by Satoshi Nakamura laid out the design for the new currency.
How does bitcoin work? Bitcoin is a digital peer to peer electronic currency. In other words, people can receive and send bitcoins to and from anyone on the network. There is no central authority or intermediary involved. Whenever a transaction takes place, it is broadcast to the entire network, and added to an electronic ledger known as the blockchain.
As the blockchain grows and transactions are verified, new bitcoins are generated. When the bitcoin network was first launched, new bitcoins were generated at the rate of 50 coins per block. This rate is halved every 4 years until it finally reaches 0 in the year 2140. At that point there will be 21 million bitcoins in existence.
The process of creating new bitcoins is known as bitcoin mining and involves solving extremely difficult mathematical problems. This difficulty increases over time. Some enthusiastic miners have created mining rigs that are devoted solely to mining coins. There are even companies now which sell nothing but bitcoin mining gear, such as Butterfly Labs. With bitcoins currently trading at $106 per coin, you can understand the attraction bitcoin mining has.
Tomorrow I will discuss the pros and cons of bitcoins, how they can be obtained and what the future may hold for bitcoin.
Benjamin Franklin put it this way: “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. “