Issue #419
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a project of Dynamic Skillset Ltd.

Hello!

In the spirit of not burying the lede, I'd like to announce that, as of this issue, I'm going to be moving Thought Shrapnel to a monthly newsletter. So issue #420 will arrive on Sunday 18th April and have a slightly different format.

This is for a good reason! While there are advantages of having the intellectual curiosity of a fox, sometimes you have to 'hedgehog' things together a bit. Everything's an experiment; let's see how it goes.

The posts I published this week were on my personal blog and 💀 extinction.fyi 💀 which is a new project I started yesterday. More about that below.

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Weeknote 11/2021

COVID vaccine card
The biggest and most unexpected news in my life this week was receiving a COVID vaccine. I had been contacted by the NHS by text message, and had booked an appointment for April, but then was called on Wednesday morning and asked to go that very day.

I’m asthmatic, and was in childhood, and then again from age 27. It’s well-managed, though, and doesn’t stop me from (usually) leading a reasonably-active lifestyle. As a result, it felt a little like receiving some kind of golden ticket.

While I can’t complain about getting the vaccine, I had planned to receive it on a Friday afternoon. This is because I know how I usually feel after receiving my annual flu jab, and I didn’t want it to interfere with my working week. Sure enough, I felt rough on Thursday and Friday. I’ve also got a bad back (still!) but I’m trying not to grumble.

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This has been Week 10 of the Catalyst-funded Universal Credit programme I’m project managing, and Week 5 of the Definition programme I’m working on with my co-op colleagues. With the former, we’ve just a week left (bar any continuation funding) so we’re wrapping up our prototype work and focusing on reporting/handover. With the latter, we’re helping the charities get ready to create their ‘Minimum Lovable Product’ (MLP) and then test it with their target audience(s).

Other than some business development, it’s been Catalyst all the way this week for the ~23 hours of paid work I did. I read an article in Fast Company this week about the 25-hour work week and how it’s the future. Well, right now it’s the reality for me. I’m not sure, to be honest, where the 37.5 or 40-hour work week comes from. I average about 5 hours per day and, as I’ve said many times before, four hours of that is solid knowledge work and the other is admin.

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I’m still reflecting on just what my response should be to the ‘Deep Adaptation’ paper I wrote about recently. My concern is that it feels like a potentially-valid response to throw your hands in the air and double-down on things that maximise both hedonism and killing the planet.

That’s not what I feel like doing. I feel like minimising my impact on nature. As an educator (by training) and a technologist (by interest) I feel that I should not only make some changes to my digital life, but encourage others to do likewise. I’m struggling a little to know exactly what to do, but I’ve been checking out Low-tech Magazine’s solar powered website, and outside of work I’m using some older, lower-powered tech. It doesn’t feel like enough, though.

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I think I might need a break from writing Thought Shrapnel for a bit. It’s devolved into me just sharing links via blog posts which then get packaged up into a weekly newsletter. Last week, I just shared a couple of posts I’d written on this blog instead. What I probably need, like most people, is a holiday to get away from the home in which I live and work.

Next week I’ve scheduled a couple of days off, but I may need to move things around due to the requirements of the projects I’m working on. Right now, I feel like I’d like to go and pitch my tent somewhere with some nice scenery for a few days, do some walking, and cook on a Trangia. It won’t be long before all that’s possible, I suppose.

New side project: extinction.fyi

extinction-fyi logo
After the modest success of eink.link, I’ve decided to embark on another side project. This one also has a cool domain in the form of extinction.fyi and is a place where I can write about all of the death, destruction, and havoc I see being visited upon the planet we call home.

As my wife pointed out, it’s not the cheeriest thing to be doing, but here’s the About page I composed this morning to give a flavour of why I decided to create this site:

This website is a project of Doug Belshaw. I’ve been concerned about the impact we’ve been having on the Earth for a while, and have been paying attention to the work of people like Vinay Gupta and the Dark Mountain community.

The tipping point, though, was reading Jem Bendell’s paper Deep Adaptation: A Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy. It put things in such stark terms that it prompted me to start trying to think more deeply about the end of our species.

I tend to make sense of the world through writing and documenting, so I thought I’d set up this simple site as a way to help me prioritise my own time and effort. It may also be useful as a place to point others who may find this kind of resource useful or provocative.

Not everyone is motivated into action by reading about death, destruction, the ineptitude of our politicians, and the corruption of big business. So, if you would rather read positive news on this topic, I recommend the excellent Future Crunch.
You can get in touch at: contact@extinction.fyi

There’s an auto-generated RSS feed for the site which you can subscribe to. Let me know your thoughts in the comments! (unless they’re the same as my wife’s, in which case I get it) 😉

🔗 extinction.fyi

Proof-of-What?

Behind most things lies nuance. Blockchain is no different. The recent controversy behind NFTs (?) has polarised debate about the ‘value’ of decentralised currencies, tokens, and the applications they allow.

There’s some important technical differences between how the decentralised networks behind various cryptocurrencies and tokens come to consensus. The point of this post is to explain these to the best of my current ability and knowledge. It’s based on my attempts to ensure that I’m not trying to save the world on the one hand while destroying it through my actions elsewhere.

In the course of buying and selling crypto, I’ve learned about an important difference between currencies such as Bitcoin which use ‘Proof-of-Work’ (PoW) consensus models, and others which use ‘Proof-of-Stake’ (PoS).

Both of these models are called ‘consensus mechanisms‘, and they are a current requirement to confirm transactions that take place on a blockchain, without the need for a third party.

The TL;DR, as far as my understanding goes is that, broadly speaking, PoW is energy intensive and killing the planet, whereas PoS is… less problematic.

Let’s be clear: cryptocurrencies and tokens aren’t going away. And I see plenty of upside in terms of trading value independently of governments. The following definitions are taken from the glossary part of CoinMarketCap’s very helpful guide to crypto called Alexandria.

Proof-of-Work (PoW)

A blockchain consensus mechanism involving solving of computationally intensive puzzles to validate transactions and create new blocks.

Example: Bitcoin, Ethereum*, Zcash
*moving to PoS at some point in the future

Proof-of-Stake (PoS)

A blockchain consensus mechanism involving choosing the creator of the next block via various combinations of random selection and wealth or age of staked coins or tokens.

Example: Cardano, Flow, Polkadot

Other approaches

  • Proof-of-Authority (PoA) — “A blockchain consensus mechanism that delivers comparatively fast transactions using identity as a stake.”
  • Proof-of-Burn (PoB) — “A blockchain consensus mechanism aiming to bootstrap one blockchain to another with increased energy efficiency, by verifying that a cost was incurred in “burning” a coin by sending it to an unspendable address.”
  • Proof-of-Developer (PoD) — “Any verification that provides evidence of a real, living software developer who created a cryptocurrency, in order to prevent an anonymous developer from making away with any raised funds without delivering a working model.”
  • Proof-of-Replication (PoRep) — “Proof-of-replication (PoRep) is the way that a storage miner proves to the network that they are storing an entirely unique copy of a piece of data.”
  • Proof-of-Spacetime (PoSt) — “In simplest terms, PoSt means that someone can now guarantee that they are spending a certain amount of space for storage.”
The legality of cryptocurrencies varies by territory, with India currently considering a ban. I predict that the difference in consensus models will be a determining factor, with a likelihood that Proof-of-Work models are banned in some jurisdictions because of their energy usage and associated impact on the environment.
BBC chart: Bitcoin consumes a 'similar amount of power to the Netherlands'
Ultimately, for better or worse, ince it’s got enough traction you can’t ban innovation from happening. Governments are going to want to issue their own stablecoin, meaning that they can’t completely ban cryptocurrencies and tokens.

That’s why I predict that Proof-of-Stake will be seen as a viable model without completely destoying the environment. I may, of course, be wrong on all counts. Caveat emptor ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Until next week!

Doug
PS As a taster, here's the links I posted on 💀 extinction.fyi 💀 yesterday:
  • Mediocrity Is The Enemy Of The Solution (CleanTechnica) — "Photosynthesis is only 1% efficient. Solar panels are 20% efficient. Thus, a solar panel needs 1/20th the land as a biofuel to produce the same energy. On top of that, an electric car uses 1/4th the energy as an internal-combustion engine car to go the same distance. Thus, a battery-electric car running on solar energy uses 1/80th the land as an ethanol-fueled car."
  • Aral Sea (Wikipedia) — "Formerly the fourth largest lake in the world with an area of 68,000 km2 (26,300 sq mi), the Aral Sea began shrinking in the 1960s after the rivers that fed it were diverted by Soviet irrigation projects... The Aral Sea region is heavily polluted, with consequent serious public health problems. UNESCO has added historical documents concerning the Aral Sea to its Memory of the World Register as a resource to study the environmental tragedy."
  • S2E53: Paul Kingsnorth on the shared roots of climate crisis, transhumanism, & immortality (Reversing Climate Change) — "Paul shares his take on capitalism versus distributism, describing how systems of radical local democracy would root us in community and prevent the kind of scale that leads to tyranny."
  • How Industrial Fishing Creates More CO2 Emissions Than Air Travel (TIME) — "According to calculations conducted by the report’s 26 authors, bottom trawling is responsible for one gigaton of carbon emissions a year—a higher annual total than (pre-pandemic) aviation emissions. Not only does the practice contribute to climate change, it is extremely damaging to ocean biodiversity—the “equivalent of ploughing an old-growth forest into the ground, over and over and over again until there is nothing left” according to lead author Enric Sala, a marine biologist who is also National Geographic’s Explorer in Residence."
  • Buying a Tesla in Bitcoins cancels 4 times the CO2 savings for its whole lifetime (Crypto Lucid) — "Suppose you want to buy this car with gold. It would take 3 to 5 [times] less energy to mine this gold than to mine the same value in Bitcoins."
Doug Belshaw
Thought Shrapnel Weekly is published by Dr. Doug Belshaw. You can connect with him by replying to this email, or via Twitter, LinkedIn, and Mastodon.


Some say he's COVID-secure. Others are not so sure. No-one thinks he's very mature.
Many thanks to Bryan Mathers of Visual Thinkery for the Thought Shrapnel logo.

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