Bitcoin and the blockchain

You’ve probably heard of bitcoin, the most recognized online cryptocurrency, but like me, you may not know very much about it. The concept of a peer-to-peer (P2P) currency which requires no intermediaries to facilitate transactions is exciting to me, because of its potential to make transactions more efficient. Nobody likes middlemen.

The concept behind bitcoin, and other similar currencies, is the blockchain. Blockchain is a distributed ledger of transactions, replicated across the network by members or users of the chain in sequence. Each new entry is timestamped and follows the previous valid transaction. A transaction, once validated, cannot be reversed. The strength of the process is rooted in the distributed nature of the blockchain. It’s basically a constantly updating database that everyone has a copy of, or at least part of a copy of it.

Deloitte held a Dbriefs webinar on blockchain on January 14. It was an introduction to all of us (it seemed) to the confusing concept of blockchain, and how it will be used in the future by businesses to conduct transactions. The Big Four are really starting to explore the potential of blockchain in this area.

In case I haven’t made it clear (and that’s a real possibility), the picture in this WSJ blog post is worth a thousand words, and at least several thousand of my words.

In talking to a friend of mine the other day about blockchain, he noted that the primary risk is on how distributed the blockchain is, or whether any single entity controls a significant part of it. This makes sense, because if any one entity controls a significant part of the chain, it can effect fraudulent transactions, and replicate them across the chain.

A second criticism of blockchain is whether there is anything original about it if there is no cryptocurrency involved. For bitcoin, it only exists in its blockchain. For transactions involving non-cryptocurrencies, is blockchain any different from a database with a distributed version of multiversion concurrency control?

I’m pretty interested to see where this technology takes us. How do you think bitcoin, and the blockchain, will be used in the future?

Solzhenitsyn on ethics

An inspiring quote from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn on ethics:

The main thing is never to act against your conscience, not to put your signature on documents you do not believe in, not to vote for those who you think should not be elected, not to approve decisions, not to applaud, not to pass on lies… not to pretend. Let your creed be ‘Let the lie come into the world, let it even triumph, but not through me.’

Back in Grade 11 English, I had to choose an author and read several of their books, and then do some kind of essay on their major themes and style. I chose Solzhenitsyn because I was fascinated with the Soviet Union.

Good advice to people in business: Don’t put your signature on documents you don’t believe in [electronic or otherwise]!

The recent unpleasantness

Back on October 11, 2015, this website was “hacked” by some random group of miscreants.

The hack placed new index.html and index.php pages in every folder, I learned upon further inspection of my hosted files via FTP. It made cleaning things up a bit tedious, but not difficult.

I think the problem was that I had several old WordPress installations hanging around on the server, which had vulnerabilities left unpatched by updates to newer versions. For example, I had an install from years ago where I just played around with new themes.

Before replacing/removing the added or changed index files, I first had to uninstall all the old WordPress sites, leaving only this one (which had always been kept updated).

I have learned some lessons, suffice it to say, about being diligent about security.

  1. WordPress updates – Always update to the latest version right away!
  2. Remove old WordPress installations that are no longer being used (and kept up to date)
  3. Backups – Make them regularly

It did have one benefit, however: It forced me to become reacquainted with my blog and all the files on the server. I’ve been neglecting this place over the past few years. I aim to change that going forward.

Invoice dates in the age of electronic billing

So as not to come off as too unreasonable or difficult on Twitter, a longer explanation of recent tweets is likely helpful.

I tweeted this to Rogers, one of Canada’s big telecom companies:

Every month, I’m billed for my mobile phone service and cable TV on the 11th. Rogers bills in advance of the services being performed, but that’s a subject for another day.

The problem is, I usually don’t have access to the bill until much, much later. When it’s available, I get a notification email.

I started to wonder whether this is a process issue with invoicing (i.e. producing a complete and accurate invoice), or perhaps an interface issue between their usage tracking system(s) and the customer-facing, web-based system. If I had to guess, I would think it’s probably the latter.

But it raises the question as to whether it’s appropriate to backdate the invoice when it’s clearly not created on the invoice date. The question becomes more pertinent when the customer is a business with payment terms based on the invoice date, but that’s not relevant here. (That does cause me to wonder whether it would be beneficial for B2C companies to offer their customers payment terms, but I’m guessing someone already ran the numbers on this.)

Thinking about cutoff, their revenue recognition would be based on when the services are rendered and the amounts are earned, so that takes us back to the fact that they’re billing in advance of those services, and thus that should be accounted for properly, irrespective of invoice dates.

In any case, on November 21 I received notification via email that my invoice was available online. Of course, it was dated November 11.

Update 2015/12/18: December’s bill, dated the 11th, arrived today (a bit earlier!)

Secondment to the finance department

For the next couple months I’ll be in Kansas City getting some experience in one of the regional offices of a division of my company, helping with some year end tasks. It’s going to be pretty interesting to be on the other side of the table for once, liaising with the external auditors and working with finance staff located across the Midwest to put together the financials.

Anyway, what’s new with you? It’s been a while…