Author Archives: Alex Forbes

Age vs Crypto

1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
2. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
3. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.”

Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt

It’s commonly known that younger generations tend to be more enthusiastic adopters of new technology. It’s easy to see why – younger people are more hungry to learn, are still forming habits, and have more to gain (and less to lose) from technological revolution.

So it’s worth casting my own resistance to crypto through this lens. I have always been an enthusiastic adopter of the internet and technology, and that attitude has served me very well; I owe my livelihood to it. It would be easy for me to jump on the Web3 bandwagon and go all-in on crypto.

Or would it?

I’m heading rapidly towards middle age, and certainly not as flexible as I used to be. Is my anti-crypto sentiment simply a natural resistance to change? Had I been this age when the internet was invented, would I have been such an enthusiastic adopter?

Do Your Own Research

The first data point I found on crypto adoption by age was from Pew Research Center. According to their research, 31% of people aged 18-29 in the US have invested/traded in or used a cryptocurrency, compared to 21% of my demographic – 30-49. So it would appear from this that millennials are less-likely to invest than gen-Z:

But it’s worth noting that had I taken this survey, I’d be considered an adopter, despite my opposition, as I have used cryptocurrencies in the past. This survey is really testing awareness, not sentiment.

Finding a better one

Finder.com have done a much more detailed survey, with more responses: Key UK crypto adoption trends for January 2022. On sentiment in the UK:

The survey found the United Kingdom ranks 23rd out of 23 countries in regard to positivity around cryptocurrency, with 17% of respondents saying they think cryptocurrency is a good investment. This is lower than the global average of 43%

Crypto sentiment in the United Kingdom [Finder.com]

What I also found interesting, is that increased positivity correlates highly with the corruption perceptions index. This makes intuitive sense – if you think the financial system in your country is corrupt, you’re more likely to view alternative systems favourably.

But why the particularly strong negative sentiment in the UK? Could that explain my own negative attitude? More research would be needed to know for certain, but I’d hypothesise that it’s a combination of relatively high transparency and a strong financial services sector. The UK is leading the world in fintech in many ways, and alternative money systems are simply less attractive in this environment, because the existing system functions well enough. Higher corruption is not a price worth paying, particularly when it functions worse.

Unfortunately, the Finder research doesn’t break down sentiment by age, but it does break down ownership by age (the chart is tall, so I’ve cut off the bottom – but black is 18-34, dark blue is 35-54, and light blue is 55+):

Source: https://www.finder.com/uk/finder-cryptocurrency-adoption-index

Compared to other countries, the UK and US have a fairly even spread, and from this breakdown it would appear that Gen-Z in the UK and US are even less likely than millennials to own crypto, although 35 is a somewhat awkward boundary as it lumps older millennials (“xennials”) such as myself with Gen-X.

Musings

So what have I found?

I went off on a bit of a tangent here, spending as much time on country statistics as age, simply because I found better data on it. But nonetheless, I’m comfortable that my age is not a significant factor in my attitude to crypto – in fact my own cohort in the Finder research is the highest adopter. The UK is an advanced financial market though, with strong consumer protections, and the country statistics have shown that it’s worth tempering my attitudes by considering the state of financial services in other countries.

But even in the worst circumstances, is a hyper-capitalist, easily-manipulated, coal-burning currency any better? In less-transparent countries, you could argue that you’re spreading the corruption risk globally, thus diluting any corruption (and inflation) in your own country. But that’s simply swapping local corruption for global coin-holder corruption, and you could very reasonably argue that this would drain more wealth from these countries than local investments. Even if it did prove better, a less-bad solution still isn’t good, and it’s an even harder case to make in high-transparency western nations.

At the end of the day though, I am no expert on corruption, or the economies of low-transparency nations. I can only argue the effects that I observe in my own market, and the technical details that I can understand.

Crypto-currencies are still bullshit.

Essential Reading on Crypto

Since penning a post on the libertarian ideology of Bitcoin, and the inherent unfairness of a deflationary currency (Bitcoin is the thin end of a far-right libertarian wedge), I’ve come across more articles on the subject that articulate the problems with crypto-currencies far better than I every could.

First up, the Folding Ideas video Line Goes Up – The Problem With NFTs, is a must-watch for anyone remotely interested in the space, or considering an investment in any form of crypto. Despite the headline being NFTs (you thought crypto-currency was bad? wait till you see this dumpster fire), it goes fairly deep into crypto-currencies and blockchains in general. At 2 hours and 18 minutes, it’s a very long video by YouTube standards, but the presentation is excellent, the research solid, and it never drags. Since it was posted 5 days ago, it has racked up 2 million views, so it’s certainly having an impact.

If two hours is too long though, I strongly recommend reading The Case Against Crypto, by software developer Stephen Diel. He nicely summarises the anti-crypto argument under 4 headings:

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Bitcoin is the thin end of a far-right libertarian wedge

There’s a fair bit of noise about crypto these days. About a year ago, advertising from crypto exchanges and various sh*t-coins really ramped up, and it really hasn’t ceased. Fortunately, the cringe-worthy tie-up between Matt Damon and crypto.com has been received about as well as anyone outside the crypto bubble would expect, but I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about crypto recently as a result. And I’ve been thinking more about about Bitcoin, as, regardless of what you think of crypto in general, Bitcoin is not a shi*t-coin, and is regularly held up as an alternative to the global financial system.

Yet, the markets are currently in free-fall, and one of the main reasons to hold Bitcoin (as a hedge against inflation) hasn’t really panned out – inflation is up, and Bitcoin is down more than the S&P 500. This is not a counterpoint to Bitcoin as a reserve currency though, as the free-fall of Bitcoin is based on its value in fiat. But the fact that we’re still pricing BTC in fiat, more than 10 years since its inception, demonstrates to me that it has failed in this mission.

I think there are many problems with cryptocurrencies and blockchains, but in this essay I’m only going to talk about one aspect of Bitcoin as a currency – the hard limit on supply. I should also add that I am not an expert, just an interested observer. In the early days I thought Bitcoin was an interesting idea, and I have held a little crypto over the years. While I never lost money, I didn’t make a fortune, and these days I am consciously a “no-coiner” – someone that holds no cryptocurrency, and believes they have no value. Or more specifically in my case, that they are a bad solution looking for a problem.

Deflationary by design

One of the arguments in favour of Bitcoin that I keep reading about, is that supply is inherently limited, making it a deflationary currency. This would mean that, hypothetically speaking, if adoption of Bitcoin was universal and stable, the price of goods in Bitcoin would steadily fall over time. This is a gross over-simplification, but the supply of Bitcoin has a hard limit, and thus we can never alleviate upwards pressure on its value by increasing the supply (I.E. debase it), without forking the chain. And of course, as a network participant, you wouldn’t support that if, like most Bitcoiners, you were against debasement in the first place.

Fiat currencies aren’t like this, because they have central banks issuing them, and these banks debase their currencies as a fiscal tool. The effect of this deliberate inflation is that the real value of the cash that people hold (and also their wages) goes down over time.

If the argument is that Bitcoin’s deflationary nature is a good thing, a corollary to this, is that a currency that can be debased is a bad thing.

With me so far? Good. Let’s take a look at that argument.

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Keybase – sadly it’s time to jump ship

Because the captains did a while ago.

Exhibit A – the github activity graph for the keybase client:

Development basically ceased in 2020 when the team joined Zoom.

This means no further improvements, including support for Apple Silicon.

This was a skills acquisition for Zoom no doubt – they needed the talent after they were taken to task over the state of their security before the pandemic. I’m sure the Keybase team has made a huge contribution to their product. But I highly doubt they have any commercial interest in continuing the Keybase project.

I’ll miss the encrypted git feature. And the Stellar Lumen giveaway was neat. But every problem it solved for me is easily solved with other tools today.

Au revoir.

A Brief Review of Beer52

Our company uses Perkbox as an employee benefits program. It has some nice freebies, but on the whole I find it’s mostly marketing – I.E. “benefits” that make little sense except as paid promotions.

So while I was happy to see a “get a case of craft beers delivered free” as one of the employee perks, I was fairly skeptical going in…

Free beer! Sounds good right!

The catch is that you have to sign up to monthly deliveries from Beer52 which are very much not free. Not free, to the tune of £24 per month. And that’s a pretty price to pay for 8 beers.

Perkbox’s take on how it works

I didn’t want to be “that guy” who just orders the free case and cancels, so I decided to let it run for another month and cancel after. But of course I ended up letting it run for about 5 months, because, hey, it’s beer! But when I did decide to cancel, I found a cancellation process designed to be as sticky as possible.

Firstly – you can’t cancel until the first box is delivered. OK, fair enough I guess.

Secondly – you can’t cancel online. You can do everything else – order beer, pause your subscription for a month, switch to 2-monthly deliveries, update payment details, all the usual stuff. Except cancel, of course.

Nope, to cancel you have to phone them up, sit in the hold queue (it took 15 mins for me), answer a question on why you want to leave, listen to two offers (I was offered an £8 discount on the next box in exchange for not cancelling), and only then will they cancel your subscription for you.

In doing so they hope you’ll carry on paying £24/month after the discounted one, just like you did after the free one.

Getting the most out of it

Sign up with a “free case” code. Log in. Switch to 2 or 3-monthly deliveries. Skip the next one. All this can be done online as soon as you’re signed up.

That way you won’t be automatically paying for a case for about 3 months, which is plenty of time to cancel if you just want the free box. And if you want more, you can order an extra case at any time, which is better than having it sprung on you when you don’t.

Making customers phone to cancel is asshole design

There is no reason for it, other than customer retention. Retention, of customers that would rather not spend their money on your product.

Don’t feel bad about canceling after the free case.

A Note on Ultrawide Micro Four Thirds lenses

When digital APS-C cameras started appearing on the market in the early 2000s, conventional wisdom was that you needed film (or full frame) for wide angle work. In that environment this made sense – almost all lenses were made for full frame, which meant a crop factor when put on an APS-C body. Thus to get the widest possible image from a lens, you needed a full frame sensor.

This changed when the Canon 10-22mm and other wide lenses with an APS-C-sized image circle were released, as these are much wider without being ridiculously large. So if you still think full frame is better for wide angle, please think again. Other than the natural resolution and high-ISO advantages of the sensor, there is nothing inherently superior about full-frame cameras for wide-angle work, and wide-angle DSLR lenses in particular have a substantial disadvantage to mirrorless when it comes to size.

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How to run an ethernet cable in your home, and save your relationship

My partner and I live in a 2-bedroom flat with our very young daughter. After a couple of weeks of working from the living room, which is where the WiFi is, and where I typically keep my computer, I decided, for the good of our relationship, to move my office to the spare bedroom.

There’s just one problem:

I can connect to the Wifi, but performance is abysmal

I’m not alone in spending a lot more time working from home recently, and if my Slack calls at work are anything to go by, I’m also not alone in struggling with poor WiFi reception. Urban areas tend to be densely packed with WiFi signals at the best of times, let alone while everyone’s cooped up at home full-time.

In my case, the WiFi connection in the spare bedroom is totally unusable for work, but continuing to work from the lounge would risk my relationship (and possibly my general safety).

So what’s a self-isolating telecommuter to do?

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Guide to Buying a Dell Latitude Laptop on eBay

It’s hard to go past eBay for a second-hand laptop (full disclosure – I own some shares in eBay). There’s a huge range, and it tends to be the outlet of choice for ex-corporate machines which are replaced on a regular cadence – more regularly than most consumers would replace theirs.

But buying a second-hand Latitude can be a bit of a lottery if you don’t know what you’re getting, as the lines are confusing with many different models. Here I’ll try to break it down, so you can make a more informed decision.

I’ve focused on small and light models, as that is what I bought for myself and thus was what guided my research. If you’re interested, check out my article on upgrading to a Latitude 7300 from a Macbook Pro.

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Laptop upgrade 2020 – back to a Dell Latitude

The last time I upgraded my laptop, I went from a Dell Latitude E4300, to a late-2013 13″ Macbook Pro. That was six years ago!

I didn’t expect to get anywhere near 6 years from the mac, as it’s not exactly upgradeable (you can replace the SSD, but that’s it). Modern macbooks are even worse – even the SSDs are soldered. Thus, you’d better anticipate your needs over the lifetime of the machine, because once you click buy, that’s the specification it will have for life.

The Latitude E4300 I had before it lasted 5 years, which was also very good. Back then, laptop technology was improving noticeably with each generation, but it’s fair to say that Intel’s dominance and complacency in the x86 CPU market resulted in marginal gains between generations. You could skip 3 generations and barely notice a performance increase.

Fortunately things have now changed. AMD’s release of its Ryzen processors a couple of years ago gave Intel a much-needed kick, and now we suddenly have 4 and 6-core designs in 15W power envelopes. The improvements over Sandy Bridge and Haswell are now substantial and easily warrant an upgrade.

Thus, the Macbook is starting to feel slow. It’s specs are:

  • Core i5 4288U 2.6ghz (dual-core)
  • 8GB ram
  • 512GB SSD

8GB of ram is what I’d consider the bare minimum – acceptable for browsing but not really software development or content creation. The 512GB SSD is still serviceable, but at ~700MB/s read and write, it is rather slow compared to modern NVME drives which can top 3,000MB/s in ideal conditions. But the performance of the 28W dual-core i5 is probably what’s driving this upgrade the most.

So in late-2019 I started shopping for a new portable laptop to replace the macbook. My requirements are:

  • 13-inch form-factor
  • At least 4-cores
  • At least 16GB ram
  • At least 512GB of SSD storage (pref 1TB)

To cut a long story short, this time around I have gone back to the future and bought a Dell Latitude instead of another Mac.

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Disabling zprezto’s git prompt for large repositories

At work we have a very large and highly active repository which contains the majority of our company’s code. Despite regular pruning and garbage collection, this repo can get rather slow, and the asynchronous git commands run by zprezto often get in the way of actual work, like commits, by holding locks at inopportune times.

Thus, selectively disabling the git prompt for some repositories makes a lot of sense, as the cost outweighs the benefit if it’s constantly getting in the way.

I couldn’t find direct instructions for doing this online, but fortunately the code is easy to parse; there’s a check for a git config option here.

As git configuration can be on a per-repository basis, all you need to do is run the following command from your giant repo to disable the git prompt:

git config --bool prompt.showinfo false

And you’ll still see the git status information on other repositories without this config option.

Note, this will obviously work only for themes that use the built-in git module, but that should be most of them.