Polar Opposites

>> May 12, 2020

>> Blog Post #70

Not a day goes by without you hearing about the dramatic effects the COVID-19 pandemic has on people’s lives and on the economy. The economy has tanked in all countries as a direct consequence of people closing shops during the confinement.

I’ve actually suspected that this economic turmoil is a bigger factor in why many countries are currently getting out of their confined states and back to more normal working arrangements (read normal as in the “norm”) than the sanitary situation itself.

You’d think that the markets would tank because of this but I have actually been extremely surprised by just how fast they have rebounded since the initial – and very strong – crash that occurred between end of February and end of March.

The only reason I can think of, and it’s probably the right one, is that the insane amount of money that has been injected by governments around the world in liquidity has artificially supported markets that are no longer correlated with the real economy. At this point, I believe it is fair to wonder if this can’t just go on forever as no one really seems to care. But please take a look at it and try to spend just two seconds figuring out if you are the one benefiting from the “free” money and / or the stock “performances”. Chances are, you might say no in both cases. Just think about it.

On the other side of the spectrum, Bitcoin has just lived another day yesterday. And nothing has changed. Well actually nothing has changed in the value proposition. The hardest money the world has ever known, sitting on top to a very decentralized protocol and network, with unprecedented censorship resistance characteristics. You have to marvel at what bitcoin has accomplished since its inception.

Yesterday was another milestone in Bitcoin’s very short, yet tremendously rich history. Bitcoin went through its 3rd halving.

See unlike FIAT currencies which might just be inflated into oblivion, Bitcoin’s total market supply is capped. No more than 21 million Bitcoins will ever be produced. The supply is finite, and its rate of production is hard coded in Bitcoin’s consensus rules so that it gradually decreases over time.  Bitcoin’s protocol states that every 210,000 blocks, the block subsidy is cut in half.

Now, I won’t get into too many details on how this works, as it can get confusing fast depending on how much you know regarding bitcoin, but you have to understand that the block subsidy, is part of the reward that is allotted to the miners in return for the work they provide in securing the bitcoin network. Here’s me trying to explain this as succinctly as possible:

Transactions are created every day by the participants who send and receive bitcoin. These transactions are pooled together and included in blocks by the miners, acting as some sort of housekeepers of the network. The miners are compensated for their housekeeping tasks by receiving a reward every time they mine a block. The block reward consists of the block subsidy – the part we are looking at today – and the transaction fees that are included in every single transaction contained in the block that is mined. When mining a new block, the miner will include in the block a transaction paying himself that subsidy, effectively creating new Bitcoins in the process. This is the only way Bitcoin is created, until the total number of Bitcoin every created reaches 21 million, at which point miners will only be collecting transaction fees.

As I said, yesterday was the third halving. Initially, the block subsidy for miners was 50 new bitcoin per block. After block 210,000 the rate of issuance of new money was cut to 25 new bitcoin per block, with blocks being produced approximately every 10 minutes. Since last evening, we are down to 12.5 bitcoin per block, which means every day, approximately 1,800 new bitcoins are issued.

This is going to be a very – VERY – scarce asset, not artificially inflated by governments. Its value proposition is extremely different from that of US dollars or Euros for example. No matter what you think of any of these three currencies, or your home country’s currency, you have to realize there might be some benefit to holding some funds in bitcoin, just in case.

Multiple Moves Are Possible

>> April 29, 2020

>> Blog Post #67

Up or Down?

Follow the flow or lag behind?

Go against the grain?

Various countries seem to be actively preparing for the next phase, some sort of gradual de confining of their populations.

As I’ve said before, I try to follow the news as little as possible. It is hard to cut off totally though, as people tend to share what they have heard, are doing, or what they fear.

From where I stand, it feels like a lot of countries initially took the same type of measures when putting the confinement in place: close the borders, close the schools, ask companies to go remote, inject massive liquidity on the market, pass “temporary” laws usually only seen during wartimes, etc.

But this here looks different. It seems that the deconfinement strategies may look different from one country to another. The timing might change, the rules might change. Situations might be more country specific.

It probably has to do with two main factors. How bad local economies are hit and how the governments in each country is holding up to the test. Both are obviously linked closely. Strangely I do not believe it has much to do with sanitary reasons at this stage.

My guess is some countries might be willing to take more risks than others, without ever telling you so – of that be certain – because they might not be as well off as you might think. It might be smart to keep an eye out for these.

Where I live schools will be reopening within a couple of weeks. I do not know why as no explanation has really been provided as to why this was necessary, advisable, or just random. Main explanation is that the economies need people to be back at work. Keeping them at home to watch after the kids is probably seen as the biggest factor in preventing that. After all I only know of one person who stopped going to work before they even closed the schools over here, and the only reason he did it is because he really does not like going and would invent any possible story not to go. The story here was that he was hypochondriac, and the pandemic scare was driving him insane. Hilarious.

In any case, I find it really interesting that we need people AT work, not TO work. It seems to me that in this day and age a lot of tools exist to make working from a lot of places relatively easy. In a large number of cases where this is not possible, as a lot of jobs have to be on the job, I think these times offer us an unprecedented opportunity to review the insanely complex logistical chains we are subject to every day and go more local.

Local to me seems less risky, more resilient and more humane.

Here’s what I’ll do and my thought process with all of this. In case of extraordinary situations which are exponential in nature, it’s best to panic and run first. You don’t want to be the last one exiting the flaming cinema, selling your stock during a market crash or waiting in line in front of the bank during a bank run. However, when promises of a return start to be heard, I feel it’s safe to lag behind. To wait for confirmation that the trend is safe and that it won’t all go crashing down again.

Oops sorry everyone is sick again.

Oops sorry it’s mutating into something different now.

The upward trend is more like something you need to ride for a while, and you don’ have to worry about the timing as much.

But there is one final thought here though. All of this is made easier if you can afford it. As I am absolutely convinced that the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed and will continue revealing to a log of people how bad inequalities are, even in the so-called rich countries. Lagging behind because you feel it is a better risk strategy is only possible if the deal is on the table. Being forced to follow the herd is a totally different predicament.

What If It Got Worse?

>> April 23, 2020

>> Blog Post #63

The weather is gorgeous, we figured out our kids are better served when we are teaching them, we actually spend more quality time together, we have learned (let’s not get ahead of ourselves here – we are just learning) how to grow food for ourselves. Everything is going fine. We are actually looking ahead with hope that this whole COVID-19 crisis will help us take better habits and build a better future. But what if this pandemic episode just led us to even worse?

One of the first things that got me riled up was how the state started telling us what to do, what to eat, what to drink as if we were its babies. Then came the power grab, with those fascist-leaning laws.

But this is only the tip of the iceberg. What we as commoners have to deal with when we are confronted with central governing bodies. But let’s face it, the government doesn’t give a f… about us. To think otherwise would be stupid. So, what you have to do is take a look at what governments care about. Law, order – that’s the part you usually focus on as it has more direct impact on your lives – and outside warfare. This second part is your country fighting with other countries, for power. Look at this closely. Your daily lives have most probably been turned upside down because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But the other part has not paused for one second. There is a strong case to make that it has actually only exacerbated.

Beware, governments are going to fight tooth and nail for power and the monger this lasts, the harder they will cling on to it.

That’s why opting-out of this mess is probably the wiser thing to do, but I believe I have told you that already.

What should we tell the future generation?

>> April 17, 2020

>> Blog Post #60

These past four weeks have been easy. We are healthy, we can work from home, the kids have been helpful, I’m ok with teaching, the weather has been fabulous, we have a yard, we can go walk in the forest without running into anyone, etc.

No complaining on our side, I feel we have it good and I certainly cringe at the idea some of my friends are stuck in small Parisian apartments.

I think we have all adapted well to the situation, even though we have all done so on our own timeframes. The oldest kid here is just about done with high school. He’s eased his way into confinement really easy. Just stay in bed, chat over the phone and play video games. I heard someone mention he probably worked for a minute or two at some point, but no one knows for sure. He’s reached that age where everything is a drag and the prospect of trying to figure out what you’re supposed to do in the future is a question you face daily even though you don’t want to think about it and clearly do not know how to answer.

It’s been slow, as I don’t want it to be too abrupt, but I’m trying to get him to do a few chores everyday so that he participates in the family life and give him ample time to get bored – just take the power cable for the video games away. This has taken him out of his room quite a bit and he’s been around us more, for a few after dinner laid back chats or just to hang out. We haven’t really gotten to the point where we could start talking about the future without it turning into some kind of boring discussion, but I hope that we can get there in a bit, if this confinement continues. Because I see this time as being a great moment for us to try and help him figure out what he would like for himself. The whole COVID-19 thing is a terrific pause in everyone’s life to try and figure out what you really want more than anything and decide to go get it. I think part of what is really tricky for adolescents is that they feel like they don’t really have a choice or none of them is better than the other, probably because they are left with adult dilemmas. I don’t care what he does as long as he is happy about it. I just need to find a way to help him figure out who he really is so that he feels like he can be himself in his choices moving forward, whether we like it or not.

I personally always went for the middle road when making decisions regarding studies and the start of my career. It was a strategy picked consciously, in order to always keep a maximum of possibilities available to me. It wasn’t bad as I was successful with it if you judge by status or accomplishments or money etc. But definitely nothing shattering. However, I don’t think that’s how you should judge this, or at least that’s not how I do anymore. I think this strategy was actually the only strategy that kept me from being myself 100% at every decision and at this stage in my life, I have decided to change that. Now maybe this is wrong, but I believe that it is probably better to try to become who you really want to become even though it may be hard and you therefore should take that risk as early as possible, when life is easier – no kids, no mortgage, no boyfriend/girlfriend, etc.….

I’ll try to pass that message along.

Rediscovering Low Tech

>> April 10, 2020

>> Blog Post #56

Being confined for a few weeks – and a little cash strapped lately – has been a boon.

I’ve recently cut down a lot on spending. Partly because a lot of stores are closed, partly because deliveries are taking for ages and partly because, I should just spend less.

But I’ve also been incredibly active and have jumped headfirst into my new gardening project.

This has led me to be very creative in recycling things and finding raw material that would have just been garbage before.

The kids were playing with water balloons since it was so hot yesterday afternoon. Guess what the straws used to fill the balloons are good for?

It works even better than I would have imagined!

The manual labor aspect has also given me a ton of free time to think and listen to even more music than I usually do, putting my brain to rest. I think that relaxed state of mind has helped me be “in the moment” more, be more present in what I was doing.

As a result of all of this, I’ve rediscovered through experience some very basic rules of physics but was surprised at just how much fun it was too find logic in things I was doing.

Let me give you an example.

I found these mushroom trays by a garbage behind an organic food store close by.

I grabbed all three of them as cheap ways of ordering stuff in the greenhouse I built in the yard last week. I had half a dozen shelves, but nothing to store all of my stuff so I just took them, thinking once I get better organized, I’ll just dump those trays. But I actually found another use for them after digging out a couple trees in the yard. I needed to try and take the weeds and moss out of the dirt I had moved around while uprooting those trees. The tray could be used as a cheap sieve.

Just load up the tray with the dirt and shake it above some other recipient to collect the earth you want to keep. Nice and easy.

But what was actually surprising yet obviously logical was the following.

By shaking the tray, the fine earth would fall in the below basin. However, larger lumps of dry earth would stay at the surface as they were too big to fall through the mesh-like plastic pattern. However, that part still did separate easily from the moss and weeds I was trying to get rid of as it fell to the bottom of the tray after the shake, while the weeds found their way to the top during the process. That’s gravity for you.

Green on top, brown at the bottom. Easy, and cheap.

It feels great to take a lot of satisfaction out of these very meaningless things. It means you are enjoying yourself greatly! I hope you are too.

Last thing, I said just how much time I have on my hands to listen to music these days. I am having a big older stuff revival and the name of the album I listen to the most these days is extremely appropriate: Dirt by Alice in Chains. That Album is as good as it got during the 90s. An absolute classic and SOOO heavy. Love it.

How Long Will This Last?

>> April 8, 2020

>> Blog Post #55

We’ve now been confined for three weeks. I don’t feel as confined as others as I still go out once in a while to shop for food and take a walk in the forest frequently – a little less than my usual 6 days a week, but still almost every other day. I also have a yard that I can sit in and garden and enjoy the warm sunny days we’ve had.

And obviously, we’re healthy, so no complaining on my part whatsoever.

I’ve talked to some of my friends over the phone recently and everyone’s story is basically the same: it’s not that bad, we’re adapting, sometimes we lose it with our kids because they drive us nuts, but all in all it’s fine.

But what I find interesting is the few comments that seem to be fairly common amongst most people. They are:

  • taking the time to reflect on their lives
  • taking the time they have now, to do things they had always wanted to do but never started – I have one friend who’s currently tearing down his car to learn mechanics!!! Insane
  • finding new efficiencies in how they work, day to day – less meetings, less calls, asynchronous teamwork, etc.

So, the question goes further than what possibly crossed your mind when reading the title of this post.

When is the confinement going to end is one thing? But something potentially much deeper is at play. A lot of people seem to be questioning their way of living and seem to be happy to try things differently, probably forming habits along the way. How long are these going to last? Will they be durable? Will they be more beneficial than the old ones? Should we actually hope that we have more time confined to push this exercise, this test to its limits? Are there any limits to how we can adapt?

I for one am just getting started, and I have ways to go.

Stay safe!

COVID Is The Next Political Campaign

>> March 31, 2020

>> Blog Post #50

I turned the TV on today while I was having lunch, to watch the news. I don’t do that very often as I find the quality of TV news appalling. But once in a while, when there is a major topic being discussed it’s actually interesting to see how it is presented on TV and what they choose to talk about or not.

Guess who choose to make a live public appearance again today? The president, Emmanuel Macron. It must be the second time this week that he makes a televised speech during the news. I think he is starting to like it too much.

Anyways, the entire thing sounded like a slogan for the next political campaign. Let’s fight for France, we will do it together, let’s make sure we support our local industry and remain sovereign, blablablablabla….

I’m not saying anything of what he is saying is good or bad, I’m just saying that the only thing I heard, was vote for me as a president.

Made me want to puke.

Bon appétit….