Posts tagged with: Computing

tkc1Christians colleges aren’t usually known for being on the cutting-edge of technology. But The King’s College, an evangelical college located in New York City, is leading the way by becoming the first accredited college in the United States to accept Bitcoin for tuition and other expenses:

“The King’s College seeks to transform society by preparing students for careers in which they help to shape and eventually to lead strategic public and private institutions. Allowing Bitcoin to be used to pay for a King’s education decreases our costs while simultaneously allowing our students to be a part of this exciting new technology,” said Dr. Gregory Alan Thornbury, President of The King’s College.

Coin.co CEO Brendan Diaz added, “Over the past year, the Coin.co team has led the effort to enable U.S. colleges, universities and other major institutions to accept Bitcoin without incurring any currency risk. Coin.co is proud to be working with The King’s College, and to be a part of pioneering the use of Bitcoin for education.”

Before commenting on their adoption of cryptocurrency for tuition, let me express my admiration for TKC. I’m a fan of the school’s president, Dr. Gregory Alan Thornbury, and our friend and Acton contributor Dr. Anthony Bradley, who is a professor of theology and ethics at the school. I applaud the college for being savvy enough to accept Bitcoins—and would advise students to be savvy enough not to pay their tuition with them.

The reason, as I’ve pointed out before, is that Bitcoins are no longer completely fungible.

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Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Thursday, March 27, 2014

bitcoin“For federal tax purposes, virtual currency is treated as property.”

With those ten words, the IRS has made it more difficult — if not impossible — for bitcoin and other virtual currencies from gaining widespread, mainstream acceptance as a currency for commercial transactions. Because they are now treated as property, virtual currencies are considered, like stocks, bonds, and other investment property, as capital assets and will be subject to capital gains tax.

But why does this hinder bitcoins use a currency? The answer is fungibility: Bitcoins are no longer completely fungible.
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Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Wednesday, March 5, 2014

bitcoin-deadLast year I wrote a series of blog posts about what Christians should know about Bitcoin. In response, one astute reader pointed out an odd juxtaposition: my conclusion seemed to imply that Christians should avoid Bitcoin “at all cost” and yet the Acton Institute accepts donations in Bitcoin. “I really want to know the rationale behind this,” he said.

Well, the rationale is easy enough to explain: Not everyone at Acton agrees with me. Like other nerds who have an interest in the intersection of economics, liberty, and technology, many of us at Acton disagree about the merits of Bitcoin. (I’d offer to place a gentleman’s wager on the future of the crypto-currency, but they’d want to bet using Bitcoin. Either way – whether it increased in value or went defunct – I’d end up the loser.)

Opinions are still divided, but the evidence that Bitcoin is doomed to failure piles up almost every day. Over the 8 month span from October 2010 to June 2011, the market value of Bitcoins skyrocketed 9667-fold from a value of $0.06 to $29. Later, when I wrote my series last April, a single Bitcoin was worth less than $100. Today, it is worth $660, and that’s after falling from a high of $1,100 in November 2013. A currency that can fluctuate from $0.06 to $1,110 in a three-year period is not a currency – it’s a speculative bubble.

Of course, we Bitcoin doomsayers have been waiting for the bubble to pop for some time now. We also tend to think that every new drop is a sign of it’s impending doom. Fellow naysayer Jonathan Last is sure, this time, that the end of Bitcoin is near:
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Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, April 11, 2013

Bitcoin-coinsWe’ve had some intriguing discussion about Bitcoin at the Acton Institute offices today. It is certainly a phenomenon worth greater attention, and something of significant cultural, social and economic import. But I’m not buying Bitcoin, at least not yet.

My initial skepticism is in part due to my lack of familiarity with the details of the currency and its formation. I certainly need to learn more.

But also in large part my skepticism is due to my doubt about the productiveness of the effort that generates the currency. Is it merely fiat money without the pretensions? Is it the logic of subjective value-theory brought to the final conclusion? I worry that the computing power expended to mine BitCoins is vacuous and parasitic at its core. It does not represent a good or service that has been provided for or contributed to anyone.

A Bitcoin has value simply because people have decided it has value. People “mine” Bitcoins because, as Whately would note, “they fetch a high price.”

But what does a Bitcoin block represent in terms of actual human utility? I worry too that this is a system that relies parasitically on real-world resources, e.g. coal which provides a large part of the electricity, which is used to run computers so that they can then in turn “mine” something entirely virtual.

What is Bitcoin teaching us, really?

If you’ve had experience with Bitcoin or thoughts about the phenomenon, please share them in the comments below.

Blog author: dlohmeyer
posted by on Wednesday, March 20, 2013

windows-phone-icon

Note: We’ve discovered an issue with different phone resolutions and app incompatibility.  This includes the Lumia 920 and HTC 8X phone models.  This error will be corrected soon and the post will be updated.  Currently, the app works on phones with the same resolution as the Lumia 822 (from Verizon).

We’ve launched a new app for phones that allows individuals using Windows Phones to access new content from Acton Institute.  This app joins our current lineup of Apple and Android offerings.  It provides the latest PowerBlog posts, Acton Commentary, and Flickr photos from Acton.  Other features include the ability to contact us, donate, and get to our social media pages like Facebook and Twitter quickly.

If you own a Windows Phone, be sure to download it from the Windows Marketplace here and keep up with us!  Don’t have a Windows Phone?  Be sure to check out Acton’s official Android or Apple app.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, January 9, 2012

Made-in-ChinaThe latest episode of This American Life follows the story of Mike Daisey and his investigation into the origins of Apple products, especially the iPhone which is “Made in China.”

What might the iPhone say if it could speak for itself? Ira Glass provides some answers to such a question in the opening moments of this episode, “Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory.” It’s illuminating that Daisey half-jokingly describes his devotion to Apple products in religious terms (this doesn’t prevent him from using the Lord’s name in cursory fashion, however).

Just like the pencil in Leonard Read’s essay, “I, Pencil,” the iPhone is “a mystery,” one “taken for granted by those who use me, as if I were a mere incident and without background. This supercilious attitude relegates me to the level of the commonplace. This is a species of the grievous error in which mankind cannot too long persist without peril.”

There are many, many lessons to learn from the story of I, iPhone. One of these lessons has to do with the dignity of the various people who work together to invent, assemble, market, sell, and distribute such wonders. This is where This American Life largely focuses its energies in this episode.

Another lesson has to do with the lessons about global trade and interdependence. In his book Work: The Meaning of Your Life—A Christian Perspective, Lester DeKoster leads us through a thought experiment, in this case having to do with “I, Chair.”

As seeds multiply themselves into harvest, so work flowers into civilization. The second harvest parallels the first: Civilization,
like the fertile fields, yields far more in return on our efforts than our particular jobs put in.

Verify that a moment by taking a casual look around the room in which you are now sitting. Just how long would it have taken you to make, piece by piece, the things you can lay eyes on?

Let’s look together.

That chair you are lounging in? Could you have made it for yourself? Well, I suppose so, if we mean just the chair!

Perhaps you did in fact go out to buy the wood, the nails, the glue, the stuffing, the springs—and put it all together. But if by making the chair we mean assembling each part from scratch, that’s quite another matter. How do we get, say, the wood? Go and fell a tree? But only after first making the tools for that, and putting together some kind of vehicle to haul the wood, and constructing a mill to do the lumber, and roads to drive on from place to place? In short, a lifetime or two to make one chair! We are physically unable, it is obvious, to provide ourselves from scratch with the household goods we can now see from wherever you and I are sitting — to say nothing of building and furnishing the whole house.

There’s much more to unpack just from these two lessons, of course.

How much of our expectations about the conditions of workers are simply culturally hegemonic forms of colonialism? Don’t Americans tend to assume that the ideal is immediately possible? What about the difficult choices that actually face workers in other countries in their concrete situations?

On these kinds of choices, consider Nicholas Kristof’s “In Praise of the Maligned Sweatshop” (Kristof is also heard from in this episode of This American Life): “We in the West mostly despise sweatshops as exploiters of the poor, while the poor themselves tend to see sweatshops as opportunities.”

As we listen to Daisey’s story, our natural instinct is revulsion. We certainly wouldn’t want to live and work that way. And even apart from concerns about cultural colonialism, Daisey documents real abuses that ought to make both consumers and producers reassess how things are done.

And so what might it mean for someone else to have the opportunity to work their way out of such situations, to have more choices than the binary options of industrial manufacturing and subsistence farming (or starving), and to have these opportunities not merely individually but corporately?

What might true compassion, which places us within the context of the other person in their concrete situations, mean in these kinds of settings?

Blog author: dlohmeyer
posted by on Wednesday, July 13, 2011

I usually feel sorry when I see the latest news about data compromise, hacks, or identity theft.  Though I feel for the victims, I also think about the individuals carrying out the act.  Society rightly looks down on such behavior, especially if the victims are everyday people.

What about when a high profile organization or government is hacked?  What if an organization of questionable reputation is targeted?  The online group Anonymous often aims at high profile targets with their hacks, DDoS attacks and other planned invasions.  By making the decision to compromise organizations, even questionable ones, Anonymous assumes responsibility for its actions.  Individuals that are a part of this online group hide their real identity to commit acts that are illegal.

Growing up, I believe most young people interested in computing are aware that there is a “wrong path.”  As in, property damage and theft are wrong.  This path includes learning how to break into different types of computer systems to seek information or modify a system’s behavior, typically for reasons advantageous to the hacker.  Anyone that is involved with technology knows this path exists.  Luckily, most of us are taught to respect others’ property, even if that property is digital.  What’s more, this activity undermines the rule of law and the ability of people to freely create wealth (see Acton’s Core Principles).

Computer programming is an important craft.  It’s simple to learn a little programming, but as you advance in skill the tasks become easier to perform.  Whether it is building a website, desktop computer application, or a small game, many people obtain enjoyment out of building unique and useful tools and products.  However, the same skills can be used to make an application that tricks people, steals their information or prevents their computer from functioning properly.  Individuals who make these keyloggers, trojans and worms typically do so out of greed or hate.

People break into computer networks or systems with malicious intent are called black hat hackers.  As you might expect, there are also white hat hackers.  White hats break into computer networks and systems too, but instead of taking advantage of the system’s weakness, they notify the owner of the system about the vulnerability so they may fix the problem.  Computer security is a classic case of good versus evil.  You might even call it one of those moral issues that are clearly black and white.

What stops black hats from becoming white hats?  Unfortunately, if there were no black hats there would also be no need for white hats.  Most white hats start out as black hats since learning the craft requires knowledge of breaking into systems.  White hats make a legitimate living through consulting and by working in organizations to ensure systems are secure.  They (hopefully) have a strong sense of right, especially if they start out as a white hat.

Even if you don’t know someone who works in computer security, it’s likely that your favorite IT person deals with security on a daily basis.  The IT professional that the white hat informs must secure their system against compromise, which requires knowledge of how hackers break in.  System owners are stewards of activity and information they manage.  They have the same access that hackers have to information stored in computers they work with.  Their job is to protect that information as well as ensuring its proper use within the system.

If the system administrator fails at their job, unsuspecting individuals using the system lose something.  It might be privacy, financial information, their own computer’s security or even their identity.  Black hats and hackers like the ones from Anonymous abuse gaps in security for their own amusement, personal reasons and notoriety.  They lack basic concepts of morality and are especially void of respect for any IT professional or individuals on the receiving end of their attack.

The traditional Drupal logo

Last week I attended Drupalcon Chicago 2011.  Acton Institute’s website runs the Content Management System called Drupal.  It is a highly customizable website publishing tool that powers around 1.7% of the Internet.  Drupal scales: you can use it for a personal  website, but very large outfits use Drupal including the White House and Grammy.

As you may know, open source software is free.  Anyone can download the package and begin using it or view the internal code.  Open source also means the software is coded by programmers who are not paid for their work.

How can such a model exist?  It exists because customers hire developers to support and implement their websites using the platform.  At this point, the “free” software can require a substantial investment of money and staff time to tailor or customize the open source software to an organization’s specific needs. Still, the model promotes learning for aspiring developers because they can dig into the system early on without paying to see if it is something they’d like to pursue.  If it is something they like they can program, design, or provide consulting using the platform for clients willing to pay for it.  If the developer doesn’t want to continue working with the platform they are free to stop without having sacrificed money figuring out they don’t want to work with it.

The (potential) Drupal 8 logo, introduced at Drupalcon

While attending Drupalcon I didn’t expect to find much related to Acton’s message.  However, I was surprised to find a lot of what you might call ethical questions discussed throughout the conference.  Web developers attended sessions seeking the right way to approach problems people have building websites.  One session included a panel consisting of the Lullabot team speaking openly about what standard Drupal development rates are.  All of the sessions at Drupalcon were aimed at empowering developers to do things the right way and to improve the way the web is presented.

There is a healthy competitive market in the Drupal community.  Many vendors promoted their web hosting and development services on the exhibit floor.  The biggest sponsors had session rooms named after them and their logos were posted everywhere around the conference.   Because Drupal is open source, there are few barriers for new development shops to use it which increases competition.  Seasoned firms compete for the business of high profile clients that receive millions of web visits a month.

There is a competitive ecosystem in not only the Drupal community, but in the open source web development community overall.  By making the tools used to create the web free, more technical people are created who can fulfill the needs of organizations willing to pay for services.  And a lot of thriving for-profit businesses are formed within this ecosystem.

If you’re interested in the Drupalcon keynotes they are available online.