<![CDATA[Welcome to the website of Robert Cubitt - Bob's Blog]]>Sat, 24 Mar 2018 00:56:22 +0000Weebly<![CDATA[What's Wrong With Young People Today?]]>Sat, 24 Mar 2018 00:00:00 GMThttp://robertcubitt.com/bobs-blog/whats-wrong-with-young-people-todayPicture
We’ve heard a lot in recent months about the snowflake generation and it worries me. It worries me not because of how the current generation is behaving, but because of how the older generations are behaving.
It is never a good thing to call people names, to attach labels or to make sweeping generalisations and that is what is currently happening, especially in certain sections of the press. Older people, with their greater knowledge and wisdom (?) should know this.
The dictionary of urban slang defines a snowflake as someone who thinks they are unique, or special, just as each flake of snow is supposedly unique. Its first use in that context is attributed to the 1999 film “Fight Club”.
The term has, however, come to have wider connotations, especially in relation to the ability of people to deal with ideas that contradict their own, without taking offence. Typically, a snowflake would, allegedly, take offence from anyone who expresses an opinion that is different to their own.

As well as snowflakes we have also had, in order of birth, the traditional or silent generation (born before 1946), baby boomers (my own generation, 1946 to 1964), generation X (1964 to 1976), millennials or gen Y (1977 to 1996) and Gen Z, iGen or Centennials (1996 onwards). In fact snowflakes aren’t yet defined as a generation, but things seem to be heading in that direction.
The reason why I am worried about such name calling is that the people who are doing it have all been through similar experiences and should know better. Pretty much since the term ‘teenager’ was first used, in the 1920s, the older generations have looked down on the younger and criticised their opinions, their ideas, their values, their music, their clothes and their hair styles.
It is in the nature of things that the younger generation want to shape the world around them. After all, they’re still going to be living in it after the previous generations have shuffled off this mortal coil. It is also in the nature of things that this should start during the college years, as that is when young people are first exposed to the most radical ideas and it is these that are the most exciting. They seem to ignore the fact that those ideas have also been exposed to the generations before them, but hey, we can forgive them that.

It is in the nature of things that every new generation discovers Karl Marx, Che Guevara, Mary Wolstonecraft, Thomas Paine and Immanuel Kant, to name but a few. It is also in the nature of things that the younger generation take up causes that seek to end injustice. Had I gone to university as a young man (instead of as a mature student) I might well have done the same.
If these young people never do this, where would we ever get our next generation of politicians? Hmm, maybe that wasn’t such a good argument, given the quality of the politicians we seem to get.

PictureA 1960s student protest.
But many of the protest movements that have changed the world for the better have started in our colleges and universities and we have to remember that.

For the first time for many of them, young people are free from parental influence and free to develop their own identities and opinions. They are finally free to drink to excess, to form inadvisable relationships and to adopt views that are different to those of their parents.

The fights against racism, homophobia, misogyny and a dozen other evils would never have started if it wasn’t for young people, especially students, encountering new ideas and championing the cause.

Generally speaking it has to be the young who do this, because once they leave university they do what every generation before them has done: they get jobs, get married, have children and no longer have time to fight the good fight. They will do what they can, of course, they will still support campaigns for change, but they are rarely as active as they were while at university – unless they go into politics, but only a minority ever do that.

The biggest criticism I have of the current generation of students, the ones that are being referred to as snowflakes, is the concept of ‘safe space’. This is where the students are supposed to go when someone is speaking on a topic with which they disagree, so that they aren’t exposed to those wicked ideas.

Now, forgive me for pointing this out, but students have always had a ‘safe space’ where they can shut out the ideas that offend them. They’re called their rooms. Go in, lock the door, pick up a book to read or turn on the TV. You will be quite safe there.
A college or university can never be a 'safe space', because part of the skills that need to be taught are those of critical analysis and part of critical analysis is the ability to  examine arguments and expose their weaknesses. In a safe space you will never be allowed to examine the ideas that support bigotry - which can only ever strengthen bigotry.

It was that master of warfare Sun Tzu that said “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles." But you can't know your enemy if you never hear what they have to say.

Students don’t need a special safe space set up for them. This is, in my opinion, a way of manipulating the young. ‘Come in here, where you will be safe and don’t have to listen to that nasty man/woman.’ They are told. But of course, once inside they can be exposed to the ideas of the people running the safe space, which might actually make it an unsafe space. This will be denied, of course.

I also strongly object to the concept of ‘no platforming’, which is the exclusion of speakers with whom an often small minority disagree.
You don’t defeat an argument by refusing to listen to it. You defeat an argument by exposing its weaknesses. You don’t defeat an argument by denying its proponents the right of free speech, you defeat it by developing stronger counter arguments. ‘No platforming’ just turns objectionable people into martyrs for free speech. It earns them sympathy for causes that should never have any sympathy.
No platforming and safe spaces aren’t a way of winning an argument; they're a way of avoiding an argument. Or, to put it another way, they are the equivalent in political debating terms of sticking your fingers in your ears and singing 'la la la'.
It is sometimes said that the snowflake generation won’t be able to survive in the ‘real world’, because they won’t be able to deal with the sorts of ideas they will be exposed to outside of their safe spaces. Funnily enough, pretty much every generation is told something similar and every generation manages to muddle through, somehow. It won’t always be easy for some people, but that also applied to earlier generations.
So, snowflake generation, keep fighting the good fight and just remember, in 20 years’ time you, too, will be saying ‘What’s wrong young people these days?”
And the answer will be the same as it is today: ‘Not much.’

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<![CDATA[Who Poisoned Sergei Skripal?]]>Sat, 17 Mar 2018 00:00:00 GMThttp://robertcubitt.com/bobs-blog/who-poisoned-sergei-skripalPicture
Watching films and TV shows and reading spy novels, it is very easy to believe that spies spend a lot of their time running around killing each other. Watch a James Bond film, or others in the genre, and the body count soon starts to rise as both heroes and villains get to work with their silenced guns, throwing knives and garrotting wire.
The fact is that even at the height of the Cold War it was extremely unusual for spies to die while at their nefarious work. There are a number of reasons why this should be.
Firstly, if one side starts killing the spies of the other side, things would soon start getting out of hand with each side killing the other. It would become almost impossible to get an honest day’s spying done.

PictureSpies being exchanged in Estonia
Secondly a dead spy is no use to anyone, but a captured spy becomes both a source of information and a bargaining chip. You can interrogate the captive at leisure and, once you have squeezed every bit of usable information from them, you can swap them for one of your own spies who got caught with their hand in the metaphorical cookie jar. Films such as The Spy Who Came In From The Cold show the much more realistic images of captured spies being exchanged on foggy bridges in the middle of the night.
Finally, if you take a spy alive, there is always the possibility of ‘turning’ them and sending them back to their former masters to spy for you. One of the most famous from World War II was Eddie Chapman, a petty criminal who infiltrated the Abwher and then pretended to spy for them while sending them useless information. He was even awarded an Iron Cross by the Germans, the only British citizen ever to receive one. His story was told in the film “The Triple Cross”.
So, James Bond no, George Smiley yes.

PictureBulgarian dissident Georgi markov
People were assassinated during the Cold War, but generally not for being spies. Perhaps the most famous case in the UK was the 1978 killing of Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov, who was jabbed in the leg by a hypodermic needle mounted in the tip of an umbrella, while crossing Waterloo Bridge on his way to work at the BBC World Service. But he was a dissident broadcaster. He was killed to shut him up.
But when you hear of people like Sergei Skripal being poisoned on the streets of a sleepy cathedral city, you know that it has nothing to do with him being a spy – at least, not an active one.

One of the key clues is the choice of weapon. Although nerve agents are referred to as 'deadly', which they are in the right dose, that isn't their primary purpose. Their primary purposes are to reduce efficiency and to incapacitate. Soldiers have to be protected and wear cumbersome protective clothing that reduces their efficiency. Having spent many hours wearing nuclear biological and chemical (NBC) protective suits during exercises I can tell you just how difficult life becomes.

PictureA training exercise in protective clothing.
In war the dead can be ignored, but the injured have to be treated and that ties up valuable resources rescuing the victims and then treating them. Anyone who knows anything about nerve  agents would know this and would therefore know that there was no certainty that Skripal would die. So why use Novochuk as a weapon if death wasn't guaranteed?

This was a very clear and very carefully calculated message that says, “You can run, but you can’t hide”. It is a message to the people who might be engaged in spying that the Russian government has a very long reach and is very patient. Betray them and they’ll come to get you – eventually.

PictureSergei Skripal and his daughter
How do we know it is a message? Because the method of the attempted assassination. People who routinely deal in death like to use weapons that are easily accessible. If possible they may even try to make the death look like an accident or suicide, because they don’t want the police to take too much interest in the killing. That would be bad for business. This, Mr Corbyn, is why the attack wasn’t carried out by the Russian Mafia. There is a second reason. The attack appears to have failed. I doubt that the Russian Mafia would have failed, because they would have used more direct methods.

The media has said many times that nerve agents of the type used in Salisbury are not the sort of thing you can cook up in your kitchen. Not only are they potentially lethal to the intended victim, they are also potentially lethal to the assassin. They need a proper laboratory in order to be created in safety. This is how we know that there is a government, or at least someone with access to government level resources, behind this attempted murder. Someone gave the assassin the nerve agent and someone also helped them to get it into the country. The ‘Diplomatic Bag’ is a very useful method of transportation in these circumstances.

PictureThe two faces of Alexander Litvinenko
The same applied to the death of Alexander Litvinenko in 2006. Radioactive Polonium was used for that killing. Again, not the sort of thing you would find in your kitchen cupboard, again the sort of thing that can only really be obtained at government level and, again, not the weapon of choice of the average assassin. Again the message was very loud and very clear.
The attack could have been carried out by ‘rogue element’ inside Russia. But that is actually worse. It means that Vladimir Putin’s government isn’t in control of its chemical weapons stocks and I doubt that Putin would allow himself to appear so weak. The rogue elements (or random people arrested and then named as rogue elements) would by now have been arrested and displayed on Russian TV in order to prove that Putin is in control and also to prove that he wasn’t responsible.
The governments who carry out this sort of act know that it is difficult to prove their involvement in absolute terms. The failed assassin was probably already on a flight out of the UK before the victims even knew they had been poisoned. Even if they can be identified, their government will deny knowing him (or her) and it will be difficult to prove otherwise. But, if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it’s a probability that it’s a duck. Not a possibility, Mr Corbyn, a probability.

PictureThe two sides in the Cold War
During the Cold War the KGB often used surrogates to carry out what few attacks they initiated. It increased the level of deniability. If the assassin was caught and discovered to be, for example, Hungarian, not Russian the KGB could point at them and say “See, he’s nothing to do with us”. This might also have been done in this case, but we may never know.
But of course, the real killer is the person who gives the order, not just the person who carries out the order. Who was that?
There have been commentators that have said that this would be a bad time for Putin to order something like this. It just shows how poorly these commentators understand Putin. It is the perfect time. His political narrative is that the West is out to get Russia. The accusation that Russia was behind the attack provides him with the ‘evidence’ to support that claim, just a few days before the Russian elections. It supports his narrative. His supporters will believe him, which is all he needs or wants.

PictureVladimir Putin
But for the moment Putin is saying this attempted assassination had nothing to do with his government, but to quote Mandy Rice-Davies, “He would say that, wouldn’t he?”
There is a scenario by which the chemical agent could have originated in the UK. We hold stocks of this sort of stuff because we have to test our countermeasures – the detectors that tell us that the chemical is present – as each chemical agent is different and needs its own test equipment. However, it won’t have been criminals who stole it, because of the risk factor.

Why break into a high security military establishment when you can buy a kitchen knife in your local hardware shop? Which means that it would have to be a government department who carried out the attack. In fact it would need the involvement of at least two government departments, the Ministry of Defence, who run the Porton Down facility, and the intelligence service who would carry out the attack.

Which brings us to motive. Not only would the government have to have a motive for carrying out the attack, they would have to persuade the relevant heads of department that the motive was strong enough to justify carrying out the attack. That’s a hard sell – not impossible, but hard.
There is a distinct difference between possibility and probability. If people wish to persuade us that some sort of conspiracy exists, they have to first provide a credible motive. If – and it’s a very big if – the government wanted to carry out the attack, why target a former spy that no one in Britain had even heard of before now? Why not target someone with a much higher public profile but who is known to be at odds with Putin? We know that there are many such people.
So, a vague possibility that Britain might have carried out the attack, but not a probability.

No doubt it is only days before someone points a finger at the CIA - conspiracy theorists always do.
What should we, as a nation, now do? Actually, there isn’t that much we can do. We have expelled some soviet diplomats who may, or may not, also have been spies. We have refused to send dignitaries to attend the FIFA World Cup, but that will hardly have Putin quaking in their boots, will it? We’ve already frozen the bank accounts of the prime suspect and some of his pals, so we can’t do that again. We can’t impose unilateral sanctions against the country that we think did it; well, we could, but they would be ineffective.
Let’s face it, they did this because they could and they will do it again because they can. And there is very little that we, as a nation, can do to prevent them. Boris Johnson standing in the House of Commons making empty threats is symbolic of the weakness of our nation these days. We could, perhaps, have persuaded the EU to act collectively against Russia but, thanks to Brexit, I think that ship has now sailed. Forget the UN – Russia has a veto.
We live in dangerous times.

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<![CDATA[Is Altruism Dead?]]>Sat, 10 Mar 2018 00:00:00 GMThttp://robertcubitt.com/bobs-blog/is-altruism-deadPicture
Is altruism a thing of the past? I’m beginning to think that it may be.
There are psychologists that argue that altruism doesn’t actually exist at all, that we only do good things for others in order to gain some benefit for ourselves. There have been many studies into this. Here is a newspaper report into one such study.
I ask this question because I have recently tried to organise something based on the theory of altruistic behaviour and have been rather disappointed with the results. It isn’t a scientific study in any way, but I have found it to be rather revealing on an anecdotal level.

Perhaps I had better explain.
I am what is know as an Indie author, that is, an author who isn’t signed up to a major publishing house, in the same way that Indie musicians aren’t signed to major record labels. For this reason, the majority of the marketing of my work has to be done by me and, as I haven’t got much spare cash, my marketing effort is very restricted to what I can do for free, mainly using social media.

Of course, I’m not alone. There are thousands of Indie authors out there who are ploughing the same furrow and the majority claim to be supportive of other Indie authors. This is where my altruistic idea came from.
Wouldn’t it be good, I thought, if Indie authors could use that supportive nature to help other Indie authors. If a thousand Indie authors were to buy a book by one Indie author, it would propel that book into the Amazon bestseller lists, if only for a day or two. That, in itself, would help to generate more sales. If those authors-come-readers were then to post reviews of the book, it would also help sales, because readers buy books that other readers have enjoyed.

Then we do it again and again and again, helping more and more Indie authors.

PictureA hand up - not a handout
I Tweeted this idea and got a lot of ‘likes’, especially from other Indie authors.
OK, actions speak louder than words, I thought, so how do I translate that obvious support for the concept into some sort of action?

I set up a Facebook group aimed at doing just that.
Indie authors have been invited to join the group and then take turns to recommend the books of other Indie authors that they have enjoyed reading. They are also asked to buy one book a month from those that have been recommended, but of course there is no way that can be monitored.
There is just one rule: You can't recommend your own books, because that isn’t what the group is about. It is supposed to be altruistic. You do something good for someone else without any expectation of reward.

The altruistic act of buying one of the recommended books doesn't cost that much, just a couple of quid a month for each group member, because books by Indie authors are considerably cheaper than those published by the big publishing houses. Most authors are also avid readers, so they're going to be buying books anyway!

It costs more to buy a pint of beer or a glass of wine and a book lasts far longer than either of those and probably gives more pleasure.
I then Tweeted the idea repeatedly over a period of about a week. The results were disappointing, to say the least. Perhaps that was where I was being a little bit naïve. Maybe even Indie authors would prefer to buy beer instead of books.
I did get some people to join the group, but these are people I already know through Facebook and they are mainly other authors signed to my publisher, Ex-L-Ence Publishing. I also got a couple of others who are friends of theirs or who follow me on Twitter, but these are very much the minority.

It is this poor response that prompted me to ask this question about altruism. While everyone seemed to be happy with the idea of doing a good act without expectation of a reward, they seem to be far less keen to actually commit the good act.
I may be being unfair, of course. There are so many internet scams going around that people may be mistrustful. The Facebook group is free to join, and whether or not someone buys a book is up to them, but it is possible that people think there is something dodgy going on, which makes them reluctant to join the group (there isn't - it does what it says on the tin).
Which means that I am right and there is no such thing as altruism, because altruism is something based on the idea of mutual co-operation; the act of one person benefits all. But if you are mistrustful, you don’t commit the act, so no one benefits.

Or, maybe, they think I'm only doing this because I want to boost my own books. Well, check out the rules for the group, because that is the one thing I'm not allowed to do - and I wrote the rules.

Or, maybe, because they can't get a payback, the Indie authors aren't really interested in being altruistic in the first place, despite what they say.

Well, the Facebook group is still functioning, albeit with a small membership. This means that a small number of authors have benefited to some degree, with an up-tick in sales, however minor.

I have bought one of the books that was recommended and have enjoyed reading it.  The potential for the growth of the group is still there and, of course, Rome wasn’t built in a day.
If you are an Indie author, or you just believe in supporting Indie authors, why not take a look at the group. Looking is free, membership of the group is free. In fact the only thing that isn’t free are the books that are recommended – but they are reasonably priced and no one involved in the group makes any money out of the recommendation, unless they’re the author of the book, of course.
Actions speak louder than words, so don’t just say that you support Indie authors, actually do something to support them.
The Facebook group is called Boost An Indie Author and you can click on the link to take a look or to apply to join the group.

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<![CDATA[Nostalgia Ain't What It Used To Be]]>Sat, 03 Mar 2018 00:00:00 GMThttp://robertcubitt.com/bobs-blog/nostalgia-aint-what-it-used-to-bePictureA trip down memory lane
I’m not one for nostalgia. Very often the good old days weren’t as good as we recollect.

One of the reasons that people feel nostalgic isn’t because life was so great back then, it’s just because they have some happy personal memories of a particular time or place. Ask them to view their past life through a wider lens and they soon admit that things are, for the most part, a lot better now.
So it was with some surprise that I found myself thinking that, within my lifetime, certain types of technology have come and gone, while others are clinging on by their fingertips.

PictureGone but not forgotten
When I was born there were no such things as cassette tapes or VHS recorders, but I saw them arrive and I saw them leave again, along with the arrival and departure of the floppy disk.

The CD and DVD are still in use, but are being replaced more and more by ‘on demand’ streaming services, which mean that you don’t have to have a shelf taking up space on which to store all your favourite films and music. The idea of actually 'owning' your music is almost a thing of the past itself. It's far easier to 'rent' it when you want to listen to it.

Twenty years ago I would have predicted that vinyl records would by now be a thing of the past, but they seem to be making something of a revival. I think I had better get mine from the attic and put them on eBay before the fashions change again.
Just this morning (I’m writing this in January) I read that the satellite TV dish may soon be a thing of the past as TV channels may be delivered by broadband instead. For some people this is already the way they receive most of their TV. So, another technology that wasn’t around when I was born will be consigned to the scrap heap; quite literally in the case of the dishes themselves.

PictureConcorde - Queen of the skies
But it isn’t just media systems that are different. I saw the arrival and departure of both Concorde and the space shuttle. I have more computing power in my pocket, right now, than the Apollo 11 astronauts took to the Moon.
When I was a lad a camera was a luxury item into which you had to insert a roll of film and, after you took your pictures, you would take the roll to a chemist or a photographic shop to get the film developed and printed - unless you were so into photography that you had your own darkroom.

Who remembers sending rolls of film off to Truprint and then waiting impatiently for the prints to arrive back? If you're under 25, you probably won't.

Consequently, photographs were valued objects which were stored in frames or albums. Since the invention of the digital camera and the mobile phone, pictures are now something that are stored in a ‘cloud’ and are only seen on Facebook or Instagram. Because photographs are no longer objects to be treasured, more have been taken in the last 20 years than were taken in the previous 182 years, going all the way back to the invention of the camera itself.

It only struck me that the nature of photography had changed so much when I started looking for family photos that I could use to illustrate the book I'm writing about my father's war service. So many have been lost or destroyed over the years and can never be recovered. Instead, I'm having to pay through the nose for the right to use photographs that were taken by others.

PicturePraktica MTL3
I remember buying my first ‘proper’ camera, a Praktica  35 mm single lens reflex, bought when I was about 25 years old. It cost a small fortune which I probably couldn’t afford at the time. It had so many buttons, switches and dials that I never discovered how to use most of them. I still have it and for all I know inside it still has the last roll of film that I ever bought.
On the day I got that camera I spent the best part of the morning photographing things, just practicing how to use it, before I realised that I probably couldn’t afford to get the film developed. That camera recorded the growing up of my children, the youngest of whom wasn’t even born at the time, but is now 33 years old. Now it sits on top of my wardrobe, gathering dust (the camera that is, not my youngest child).

PictureWhat does the future hold?
Looking forwards, however, I wonder what bits of technology I am using, or at least witnessing in use, that won’t be around when I finally shuffle off this mortal coil.

The pace of change in technology is speeding up, not slowing down. Every time I imagine some new sort of technology, for use in my sci-fi novels, I find that someone, usually in Silicon Valley, is already way ahead of me. Well, until they invent a time machine or they can find a way into parallel universes, I’ll remain one step ahead for a little longer.
There can be no doubt that the majority of technology is changing our lives for the better. But not all of it. The rise in automation threatens a lot of jobs and no one has any idea how to resolve the social issues that will create. There may come a day when our descendants look back on these days with nostalgia for the time before robots took their jobs.

PictureThe scrap heap of history
Can we stop the march of technology? I doubt it and nor should we.

The technology that saves your life in hospital tomorrow will only come about through the development of a broad range of other technologies. The development of the MRI scanner in the 1990s, so beneficial in medicine today, came out of the much earlier development of nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) in the 1930s, which was used to examine the make-up of chemical compounds.

We can’t pick and choose which developments should go ahead and which shouldn’t because we can’t know which will be the most beneficial. If NMR research had been banned then the MRI scanner might never have come about.
But we do need to be cautious, or we may one day find ourselves as obsolete as the VHS tape cassette or the 3½ inch floppy disk.

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<![CDATA[Why Doing Nothing Is Not An Option]]>Sat, 24 Feb 2018 00:00:00 GMThttp://robertcubitt.com/bobs-blog/why-doing-nothing-is-not-an-optionPicture
Climate change is one of those things that divides people. There are some quite high-profile individuals that deny climate change is taking place, challenging the evidence and the credibility of the scientists that undertake climate change research.

On the other side are a whole lot of highly reputable scientists who believe the research and attempt to influence governments to bring about the changes necessary to slow down climate change and even reverse it.
Whether you are a climate change believer, or a denier, is a matter for you to decide, but it isn’t something that can just be dismissed. This blog isn't a scientific argument, because I'm not a scientist. It is just and expression of what makes sense to me.
Let me use an analogy. Let’s say that you are a smoker (never mind if you aren’t) and you go to visit your doctor over some ailment, and your doctor then sends you to see a specialist.

The specialist is very highly qualified and is a recognised expert in his (or her) field. At the end of his (or her) examination the specialist says, “I’m sorry to have to tell you, but if you don’t stop smoking at once, you will be dead within 6 months.”
You have 2 options (we’ll leave out seeking a second opinion). You can either believe the specialist or you can disbelieve them.
If your specialist is right and you choose to stop smoking, then in 6 months’ time you will still be alive and well.
If your specialist is wrong, but you choose to stop smoking anyway, then in 6 months’ time you will still be alive and well.
If your specialist is right, but you don’t believe them and choose not to stop smoking, then in 6 months’ time you will be dead.
The only safe way to ensure that you are alive in 6 months’ time is to stop smoking, regardless of whether or not you believe your specialist.
Exactly the same applies with your belief on climate change. The only safe option is to take action to stop it happening, regardless of whether or not you actually believe in it.

Doing nothing is not an option, because if the climate change scientists are right we can be sure of one thing. By the time the irrefutable evidence for climate change emerges (if it ever does), then the damage will already be done and it will be too late to reverse climate change.

Just like the smoker, we can’t make the decision when we’re on the life support machine with only days left to live. As with my smoking analogy, there is only one safe course of action.
It is a matter of extreme concern to me that highly influential people are advocating that we do nothing, just because they don’t believe in climate change. At the very least this demonstrates a lack of judgement and people who lack judgement shouldn't be in positions of influence.

Let me use another analogy. The meteorological office puts out a warning that a river near your house may, possibly, flood. Do you (a) ignore the warning because the river hasn’t flooded before, or do you (b) take the precaution of trying to protect your house against the water. The sensible person takes option (b).
If the river doesn’t flood, you will have been a little bit inconvenienced. If it does flood, you may have prevented your house suffering considerable damage. If it makes sense to take preventative action in one case, then why doesn’t it make sense to take preventative action in the other?
Well, maybe its because you can go and look at the river and see how high it is getting. You can’t look at the climate.
Except that is exactly what climate change scientists are doing. They are measuring the changes in the climate year on year and trying to forecast what affect that will have on us. They are looking at the river for us, because we can’t look at it for ourselves.

PictureFrost Fair 1684 - artist unknown.
Way back in the 1500s King Henry VIII rode his horse across the frozen River Thames. His whole court had to accompany him, of course.

It was an act of bravado on the King’s part but was popular with the people of London. Or maybe they were just hoping the ice would break and the king would drown.

Frost fairs were common in London in winter, held on the frozen ice of the river because the river wasn’t under the control of the local boroughs and so they couldn’t charge the traders any rent. The last time the Thames froze solid enough to walk on was in February 1814, just as the Industrial revolution was starting to hit its stride. Coincidence? Maybe, but maybe not.
If the freezing of the River Thames was a regular occurrence for thousands of years, but then it stopped happening and hasn’t happened since, there must be a reason for that. Now, here’s a question for the climate change denier in chief (whoever he or she may be). Why hasn’t the River Thames frozen enough to support the weight of revellers for over 200 years? If you are so sure you are right, then you must have an answer that doesn’t include climate change.
I won’t hold my breath while I wait for the answer.
Now, here’s a statistic for you. 97% of all scientists that are studying climate change believe that change is occurring. Only 3% don’t. However, even among that 3% it isn’t total denial. Many of them are just arguing about the accuracy of some of the data that is being produced.
Well, I hear you say, they’re getting paid to prove it is happening, so they’ll make sure that their research ‘proves’ it. It’s a reasonable argument, that might hold up if it wasn’t for the fact that PR companies are being paid a shed load of money to try to tell us that climate change isn’t happening.

Who is paying them? The businesses that stand to lose shed loads of money if we stop polluting the atmosphere with CO2.

Picture1960s tobacco advert
It’s exactly what the tobacco companies did back in the 1950s and 60s when scientists first identified the link between smoking and lung cancer.

At that time many doctors smoked, because they believed the tobacco companies when they said smoking was harmless. Find me a doctor today that smokes and you’ll be finding a rare specimen, because now doctors believe the scientific evidence, not the tobacco companies.
So why do climate change deniers believe the people who have the most to lose when it comes to climate change? If the climate change scientists have the most to make out of climate change, the oil and coal companies have the most to lose – and we’re talking $ billions.
Now, going back to my smoking analogy, if you were to consult all the specialist doctors in the world and 97% of them said you should give up smoking because you will be dead in 6 months if you don’t, but 3% said not to worry, carry on smoking because you will be fine, which would you believe?

I’m guessing you would believe the 97%. You wouldn’t want to take that chance with your own life, would you?
But for some reason, some very influential people are prepared to believe the 3% when it comes to climate change. They’re quite happy to take the chance with everyone's lives.
OK, the 3% may be right, but who is right isn’t actually what is important. What is important is the safest course of action to take. When it comes to climate change, doing nothing is not a safe option – even if 97% of scientists are wrong.

<![CDATA[Pollution and People Power]]>Sat, 17 Feb 2018 00:00:00 GMThttp://robertcubitt.com/bobs-blog/pollution-and-people-powerPicture
Do you find that picture distressing? So do I, but brace yourself, because you will see more like it before we get to the end of this blog.
In recent weeks there has been a lot written about pollution caused by plastics. Many people believe it is a great scourge, perhaps one of the biggest environmental problems of this century. I believe that too. When you talk to people about it, they all agree that ‘THEY’ should do something about it.

But who is that ‘they’? Should we not be replacing the ‘they’ with ‘I’, ‘me’ or ‘we’? I’ll return to that in a moment.
By ‘they’ I think that people generally mean politicians. But politics operates on the basis of the ‘squeaky wheel’. Whichever wheel is squeaking the loudest will get the oil and one thing I think we can agree on is that there are many squeaky wheels out there in the world right now, whatever country you live in. So we can’t rely on politicians doing anything about this problem for a while. Some other ‘they’ must do something and that ‘they’ is us.

We blame retailers for wrapping their products in too much plastic, but at the very same time as we are complaining we are also filling our supermarket trolleys with the stuff.

Yet it is us, the people spending our money with those retailers, that have the greatest power of all. We can force retailers to change their ways simply by refusing to buy products that aren’t in biodegradable wrappings.
If we do that, then the retailers will pressure their suppliers to change their ways. This is ‘people power’ at its most effective and will produce faster, better results than a thousand protest marches or petitions.
Retailers operate in a highly competitive world. They operate on small profit margins and so it needs only minor shifts in consumer behaviour to make them stop and think.

Here is one example. If a hundred people refused to buy pre-packed vegetables, then the supermarket would be forced to throw away a hundred packs of pre-packed vegetables because no one bought them. That is very expensive for them, but very cheap for us.

Now, multiply that up to every supermarket in the country and you have created a very loud consumer voice that is shouting very loudly ‘stop pre-packing OUR vegetables’.
Now, imagine all the meat, butter, cheese, bread and other consumables that would have to be thrown out if it wasn’t sold and imagine what that would do to the supermarket’s profits. It would take a couple of weeks, maybe, but believe me, they would soon start to feel the pinch.

The supermarkets would be forced to listen, because refusal to listen would bankrupt them.

We know this works because we have a quite recent example of this sort of consumer power. It relates to tuna fishing.

A few years ago we were bombarded with images of drowned dolphins, caught in the nets of tuna fishermen. People stopped buying tuna. Not everyone, of course, but enough to make the retailers stop and think. They demanded tuna that was line caught, not net fished, otherwise they couldn’t sell it; they couldn’t even give it away.
The assurance that the tuna in the can was line caught started to appear on the labels of the tins and the problem of dolphins dying in nets ceased to be such a big issue. I dare say that some dolphins still die that way, but not nearly as many as there once was. It was consumer power that did that. YOUR power.

If we started to shop at market stalls, or rather we went back to market stalls, to butcher's shops, bakeries etc we would soon force the supermarkets and other big retailers to stop and think. They always stop and think when their profits are at stake.
But that takes time, doesn’t it? It’s inconvenient to shop in half a dozen different places when you can do all your shopping in one place and save time.
Yes, but it is also grossly hypocritical. You can’t, in one voice, say ‘Oh, that poor creature, they should do something about it’ and then, in another voice, say ‘I’d love to help, but I’m in a hurry.’
It is our problem. If not us, then who? If not now, then when?

I am going to ask you to do three simple things to try to change the way our food and other products are packaged.

1. Share this blog and other blogs on this subject by other bloggers. Get the message out there that it is US who has the power to bring about change and WE must use it.

2. Every time you buy something, look at the packaging and see if you can buy an alternative that is less environmentally damaging.

3. Make sure that your retail outlets know that you have made this choice and will continue to do so. Use their own social media sites so that all their followers know that you are taking this stand.
I know that my little blog, by itself, isn’t going to change anything. But if all of you out there who read it do something, and persuade others to join in, then we can stop the suffering of animals because of OUR consumer behaviour.
If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got. If you WANT something different then you have to DO something different.

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<![CDATA[It Only Hurts When I Laugh]]>Sat, 10 Feb 2018 00:00:00 GMThttp://robertcubitt.com/bobs-blog/it-only-hurts-when-i-laugh5210881Picture
I had an exchange of Tweets with someone a couple of weeks ago, in which he revealed that he had once suffered the unwanted attentions of an amorous pelican. Intrigued, I asked for more detail.
It turned out that it was actually a pair of pelicans who decided he would make the ideal mate and pursued him along the waterfront. It wasn’t just avian aggression – they wanted more! His wife, instead of helping him and scaring off the birds, was incapable with laughter.
I tell that story only to illustrate my point that we humans do seem to relish the misfortunes of others.

You will see it a lot on motorways when people pass the scene of an accident. There are basically two types of people. Type (1), the nice ones, hope that no one has been injured in the accident. Type (2), the not so nice ones, get their cameras out and film it so they can put it on Facebook or YouTube. If the smashed up car is a very expensive one, a Ferrari for example, then so much the better.
I don’t want to sound all ‘holier than thou’ about this. I am just as prone to laughing at the misfortunes of others as anyone else. I’ll tell you two golf related stories to illustrate this.
I had been introduced to Bill (not his real name) by a mutual friend, and agreed to take him for a round of golf. At the 3rd hole Bill had to play a shot over a shallow valley, which he managed. He then descended the side of the valley to cross at the bottom. Too late I shouted a warning that there was a stream at the bottom, concealed by grass and weeds. He sank into the stream up to his ankles. As we had only just met and I didn’t want to cause offence, I managed to stifle my laughter as I pulled him out, but at some pain to myself. It really did hurt because I couldn't laugh.

Picture9th hole - Cherwell Edge Golf Club.
On another occasion I was playing a round of golf with my old friend Gavin (also not his real name). Gavin didn’t like buying golf balls, so on every round we played he could be seen kicking his way through the rough looking for lost balls, or inspecting the edges of ponds for balls that might have succumbed to a watery grave and which he could retrieve.
On this day we arrived at the 9th hole, which has a pond across the fairway. After playing our shots Gavin, as usual, descended the side of the pond looking for lost balls. Unfortunately it had rained a lot overnight and the sides of the pond were slippery. Despite his best efforts he started sliding towards the edge of the water. He had two options: throw himself onto the ground and crawl to safety, or make like a novice ice skater and scramble with his feet trying to gain some sort of grip. He chose the latter course of action, which only speeded up his rate of slide until he was up to his knees in water, and still sliding down hill towards the deeper part of the pond.
By this time I was so helpless with laughter that I was almost unable to help him. Eventually I extended a golf club far enough for him to grab a hold and I pulled him out.
But why was I so amused by his misfortune?

There is a whole website dedicated to laughing at the way other people meet their deaths (or near deaths) through their own stupidity. It’s called the Darwin Awards.

There are also TV shows made about this, with people sending in video clips of their friends and family suffering pain as they fall, crash or slam into things. Some of these shows even pay money for the clips, to encourage people to send them in. I tried to find some YouTube examples to include, but unfortunately, they all contain foul language. If you don’t mind that, try this one, but don’t say I didn’t warn you!
The phenomenon is called “schadenfreude”, a German word meaning to take pleasure from the misfortune of others.

According to Richard Smith, Professor of psychology at the University of Kentucky and the author of “The Joy Of Pain: The Dark Side Of Human Nature”, laughing at the misfortune of others gives people a sense of superiority over them. Basically – they are stupid for getting themselves into that fix and it’s OK for us to laugh at their stupidity.
The laughter becomes all the sweeter if the misfortune is happening to someone we don’t like very much. Princeton psychology professor Susan Fiske carried out an experiment whereby she measured the smiles of people watching the misfortunes of others, using stereotype characters as the victims. The subjects tended to smile more at the misfortune of enviable stereotypes (ie the rich) compared to pitiable stereotypes (ie the poor or elderly). So, if you are rich and powerful, don’t mind too much if we laugh at you. Does this remind you of the way we have laughed at a particular person over the last year or so?

PictureCharlie Chaplin
Certainly early film comedians understood that phenomenon. The biggest laughs in Charlie Chaplin films always came when the arrogant authority figure got his comeuppance.
If any of this worries you, don’t worry too much. It isn't our fault, it's the way we're made.

According to Professor Mirrella Manfreddi of the University of Milano-Bicocca, our brain gets confused between funny and fearful expressions in others.  We laugh because we think the frightened person is laughing, even though the context (the misfortune) says they can’t be. We also laugh when others laugh, as it validates our own feelings of confusion.
But that doesn’t explain why people film accident scenes on motorways. Maybe we’ll have to wait for another psychologist to explain that one for us.

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<![CDATA[Glorious Greeks]]>Sat, 03 Feb 2018 00:00:00 GMThttp://robertcubitt.com/bobs-blog/glorious-greeks
Mythos, by Stephen Fry, is the sort of book that you might easily pass by, thinking ‘it’s not for me’. That would be a great pity on several counts. Firstly, it’s a very entertaining read, secondly the stories are well told and, finally, because it is just so informative.
With this book you could soon become the star of your pub quiz team!

Like many people I am familiar with the names of some of the Ancient Greek Gods: Zeus, Apollo, Aphrodite, Hermes etc. What I didn’t know was that these weren’t the first of the Greek Gods; they weren’t even the second generation. These were the third generation of Gods. This is the sort of thing you find out when you read this book.

We also learn that the Gods were quite flexible when it came to their sexual preferences and it is no surprise to find that words such as homosexual and lesbian have their origins in the sexual proclivities of some of the Gods. I'll gloss over what happened in the animal kingdom, as this is supposed to be a family blog!

Stephen Fry also points out the origins of many of the words which we regard as familiar. If you thought English had its origins in Anglo Saxon you will be surprised to find out just how many of our words come down to us from the Ancient Greeks.

Starting with the God Kaos (or chaos, the first word to come to us from Ancient Greece), who created the universe, the reader quickly progresses to the better known names and to the stories of people such as Echo, Narcissus and King Midas which have come down through the centuries to reach us.

Shakespeare was influenced by some of these stories (Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, MacBeth) and even includes one of the myths in a play (A Midsummer Night’s Dream). There are also hints of our fairy stories to be found, such as Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast and Snow White.

If you find some of the stories a little familiar it may be because there are clear parallels to the Bible. The flood (or at least a flood) gets a couple of mentions, as do special trees and snakes. Cities are destroyed by the Gods (as were Sodom and Gomorrah) and several characters get turned, like Lot's wife, to stone - OK, she was turned to salt, but that's still a mineral. And the stories make it clear that Zeus is a very jealous God (Exodus 34:14). Of course, the Greeks were great travellers and I'm sure they swapped stories with other travellers as they drank their wine of an evening, so where the true origins of the stories lie is a matter of conjecture.
The problem with the stories of the Ancient Greek Gods that I had when I have tried to read them in the past, was that they were always told in such a serious manner, trying to extract obscure meanings about the human condition. Here, Stephen Fry doesn’t bother with all that. He just tells the stories because they are such fun to read.

PictureAuthor, Actor, TV Presenter and all round clever clogs, Stephen Fry
These stories are the original fantasy fiction and if they are read with that in mind they are hugely entertaining. The book is broken down into easily managed sections, which makes it ideal bedtime reading. Just one or two stories and you can put the book down until the next evening – though if you want to binge read them all in one go then the book flows easily enough to allow that.
However, there are serious points hidden within the covers. Whether Stephen Fry intended them I don’t know, but they are there.

We find that the Kings of ancient Greece entwined their own ancestry into the family trees of the immortal Gods, in order to justify their claims to rule. Our more modern monarchs no longer do that, because the position of Son of God was filled permanently  about 2,000 years ago, but monarchs still claimed to be God’s anointed, ruling by divine right. Not just them, but many a tyrant (another Ancient Greek word) has made similar claims. There are similar points made about the machinations of politicians and the fragility of egos. As for jealousy and vengeance, look no further than Mount Olympus!

When it comes to the educational value of this book, there is much to learn - or perhaps to unlearn. For example, the first thing I learnt was that the film Clash Of The Titans (either version) has about as much to do with Greek mythology as I have to do with heavyweight boxing. It is more the imaginings of Hollywood writers than the story telling of Ancient Greeks and the same applies to the later Wrath Of The Titans.

But there's more. I always thought Hades was a place. It wasn't. Hades was a guardian of the underworld. Equally, Death didn't wield a scythe (sorry, Terry Pratchett fans). It was Kronos (aka Father Time) that wielded a scythe and Thanatos (aka Death) didn't.

I must admit that at times I felt a bit like Alan Davies on an episode of QI. Every day is a school day when your read this book - but in a good way.

There are just a couple of minor criticisms. The first is a technical issue with the links in the Kindle edition that navigate too and from the copious footnotes. Some didn't work too well and some took me back to the wrong page. I did point this out to the publishers and I hope that they will correct the problems.

The second criticism is that the Gods did indulge in rather a lot of sex and violence and while Stephen Fry tones it down, I wouldn’t recommend this book for younger readers. But for everyone else I would say “give it a go”. It is a very good read.

I know it is only February, but this is my book of the year so far. To find out more about Mythos, by Stephen Fry, please click here.

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<![CDATA[Welcome To The Bitcoin Casino]]>Sat, 27 Jan 2018 00:00:00 GMThttp://robertcubitt.com/bobs-blog/welcome-to-the-bitcoin-casinoPicture
Did you buy Bitcoins in December, thinking it was a one way bet? Are you now wondering what happened to your money?

Economics and the financial stability of currencies aren’t really my strong point, I have to admit, but I have to wonder at all the hoo-ha currently going on around the Bitcoin and the prices that people are prepared to pay to get a piece of the Bitcoin action.

To me this is a disaster waiting to happen. Someone is going to make a financial killing out of Bitcoin and I can tell you now, it won’t be you or me.
It won’t be me because I didn't enter the casino, but what about you?
Let’s start with the basics. What is a currency? It is just a means of exchange that allows us to get the things we need without having to lug chickens and pigs and ploughshares around to barter them. We exchange our labour for currency, which we then exchange for the things we need to live – shelter, food, clothing etc. However, there is one thing that we have to agree upon for it all to work. We have to agree that the currency is worth whatever it is we are exchanging it for.

Keeping it simple, let’s say I work for £1 per hour (as an Indie author, I wish it was that much, but that’s a whole different blog!). I then take my wage for one hour of work and I exchange it for some food. I have to agree, at least in principle, that the food I buy is worth one hour of my labour. The hungrier I am, the more the food is worth to me. At the same time, the person I purchase from has to agree that the £1 I give them is the equivalent in value to the food they are selling (plus a bit on top for profit).
Underpinning those transactions is a whole lot of trust. My employer must trust the value of the currency, I must trust the value of the currency, the retailer must trust the value of the currency and, in the end, we must all agree that this equals that equals something else. To refer back to the days of barter, we all jointly agree that one pig = ten chickens and ten chickens = a sack of flour.

We all must trust the government that issues the currency to be able to hold good on their promise to exchange it for some other medium if we ever asked them to. This is the reason why currencies fluctuate in value in comparison to each other.
We trust some governments that issue currencies more than we trust others. If you don't believe me, just try and take a Zimbabwean banknote into a UK bank and try to exchange it for a British pound.

If something changes that undermines or enhances our trust in a government, the financial markets make an adjustment to the comparative values of the currencies to reflect that change in status. This then affects the price of things we buy from other countries, like oil and aeroplanes.

PictureAs Safe As The Bank of England
But what about Bitcoin? What makes it worth a certain amount of our money?
In other words, what economy backs it? Can it be protected against speculators who will manipulate the market in order to make a profit? The answer to those questions are (1) no one and (2) no.

Yet the rapid increase in price of the Bitcoin appears to make it the most attractive currency in the world right now. More attractive than the $, the £, the €
or any other national currency. But it isn't backed by any assets or any economy, so on what is that valuation based? It is based only on the premise that if you buy today you can sell tomorrow at a higher price. That's it. That's all. It's a price driven purely by greed and that can't end well.
The value of a Bitcoin is predicated on the fact that it has to be “mined”, by solving complicated computerised puzzles, which means that the volume of Bitcoins in circulation is limited to the number of times that the puzzles are solved. Consequently, it is believed that the number of Bitcoins that will ever be in circulation will be limited. What people are currently purchasing is a share of those Bitcoins that have already been ‘mined’.

PictureA Bitcoin Machine
But there is a very specific reason why the Bitcoin bubble must burst and it isn’t a matter of ‘if’, only ‘when’.

We are told that Bitcoin is the currency of the future, an international currency that is free from the price fluctuations that plague other, nationally based, currencies. This may be true in the long term, but it isn't true while Bitcoin is being traded by currency speculators, because the Bitcoin market is not behaving in a 'rational' manner.

What makes a market 'rational' is the ability to analyse the intrinsic value of a business or currency and predict whether or not it will rise or fall in value based on a wide range of factors. Market analysts make very comfortable livings based on their ability to analyse markets in that way. Because Bitcoin doesn't have any history worth talking about, and because it's price isn't based on economic factors or physical assets, there is nothing on which to base a sensible analysis, which means that the market is behaving 'irrationally', with the price rising and falling seemingly at random.

It may be argued that the FTSE 100 or the Dow Jones don't behave rationally, and sometimes this is true. Panic sets in occasionally and triggers a sudden crash. But those markets are backed by shares which are based on real companies with real assets and the markets always recover over time to reflect the real value of those businesses. Those investors with a strong nerve and an eye on the long term rather than the short, usually end up wealthier when the markets recover because while the  panicking herd is baling out of the market, they are buying in.

But the lack of rationality in the Bitcoin market makes it unpredictable and that unpredictability makes it bad for business.

When a business purchases goods or services from a business in another country it agrees the currency which will be used to pay for the product and the date on which payment must be made. This can be immediate, up front payment but, more commonly, it will be payment on delivery of the goods, sometimes months, even years, down the line.

At this point the business must decide when it will buy the currency in which the payment must be made. So company A, in Britain, buying goods from company B, in the USA and paying for those goods in dollars, must decide when to buy their dollars. Do they buy today, at today's exchange rate, or do they buy in 3 or 4 months time when the exchange rate may be different?

To make this decision they consult the market analysts and ask if the dollar is going to go up in price, down, or remain the same. If it is going to go up in price they may decide to buy their dollars now. If it is going to go down in price, they may delay purchase until nearer the time when payment is due. This decision is vital to business, because it can determine whether or not the company makes a profit or a loss. Millions are at stake in predicting the state of the market over a specific time period. Which is the thing that you simply cannot do with Bitcoin in the current climate.

Because Bitcoin isn't behaving in a predictable manner. It is subject to massive increases and then, as it did on 22nd December 2017, it may suddenly drop as speculators decide to take their profits and move on. This unpredictability means that big business won't use Bitcoin as a means of exchange. If business isn't using it, then bitcoin is worthless.

Bitcoin has since slid further in price because of threats in some countries to regulate the Bitcoin market. It seems to me that if the people buying Bitcoins think that regulation is a bad thing, it probably means they are behaving in a manner that needs regulating.

Ah, I hear you say, but if everyone was using Bitcoin all the time then there is no need to buy and sell Bitcoins in the way dollars and pounds are bought and sold. they will already be in our bank accounts. Therefore  market fluctuations will become irrelevant to business.

That is true. But the problem is, we aren't all using Bitcoins and there are no plans, by any major government, to replace their currencies with Bitcoin or to run Bitcoin as a parallel currency. There are also no plans by major businesses to use Bitcoin as their  currency of choice. The day that Donald Trump, or Theresa May or Jean Claude Junker, or Richard Branson, or Tim Cook announces that the Bitcoin will become the currency of the the USA, or the UK, or the EU, or Virgin or Apple will be the day to start turning your dollars, pounds or euros into Bitcoins, but not today.

Once those who have bought Bitcoin, especially in larger quantities, realise that Bitcoin is worthless as a means of exchange, they will, inevitably, sell their holdings causing the price to crash.

It is the nature of bubbles that they burst when investors realise that whatever it is they are speculating on isn't underpinned by any intrinsic value. It happened with the  Dutch tulip bulb bubble of 1637, the South Sea Bubble of 1720, the stock market bubble of 1929 and the dot com bubble of 2001.

In this case, no one actually knows what a Bitcoin is worth, or should be worth. Consequently speculators can ramp up the price by promising high returns then, when the price hits whatever target they have in mind, they can cash in their holdings, causing the price to slump, just as it did in December. Since it's December high, just below $20k, the value of Bitcoin has slid to about $10k, leaving some speculators with severely depleted wallets.

Some people, thinking that the price must bounce back again, will buy more Bitcoin holdings, causing the price to stage a short term recovery, but inevitably it will crash again as those new investors cash in their holdings and take their profits. Eventually, no one will invest because they don't know when the next price drop may occur and those holding Bitcoins at that instant in time become the big losers as, finally, the price fails to recover and, instead, continues to slide.

In the meantime, because of the unpredictability in the price of Bitcoins, business won't use it as a means of exchange, which means that it can't buy anything of significant value. Coffee shops may accept it, as a novelty, but that is low risk for them. Try buying a car and offering to pay for it in Bitcoins and you'll soon find out what a Bitcoin is really worth - and it isn't much. The only way to buy the car is to convert the Bitcoins back into a negotiable currency, such as pounds, dollars or euros - at whatever the price is that day.

When the speculation is over and Bitcoin starts to maintain a measure of predictability, in other words, when the market becomes rational rather than irrational, then Bitcoin will be usable as a means of exchange. Until then, the Bitcoin market is just a casino and the losers will be those who are holding their Bitcoins on the day the market crashes for the final time.

It must always be remembered that when it comes to gambling, the 'house' always wins in the end. In terms of the Bitcoin the 'house' is the companies that are buying and selling the Bitcoin on your behalf. They charge a commission for doing that. The more they encourage you to gamble, the more commission they make, which means they are always the winners. They don't own Bitcoins of their own, so they never lose.

Place your bets please, ladies and gentlemen.

Update 3rd Feb 2018

I don't normally go back and update my blogs, but in this case I think an exception should be made.

In the week since I posted this blog, Bitcoin has continued its slide and is now trading at a fraction over $9,000, its lowest since 28th November 2017. Anyone who bought their Bitcoins after that date are now in a loss making position. In my opinion they have three choices:

1. They can buy more Bitcoins in the hope of making greater gains if the market turns upwards.
2. They can hang on to what they have in the hope of a market upturn. Or
3. They can try to salvage something by selling at whatever price they can get.

Option 1 is the gambler's approach and has led more than one person into penury. Yes, they may make a killing, but in the current selling market I doubt that they will. Option 2 is for the optimists. As a natural pessimist myself, I have never suffered the sorts of disappointments that optimists experience almost every day. Option 3 is for the pragmatists. It's better to get something back than nothing, but selling can only lead to further falls in the market price, thus dashing the hopes of both the gamblers and the optimists.

For most investors or would be investors, Bitcoin is now a tainted brand and its unlikely that any new players will enter the market.

This week I have had some interesting conversations on Twitter, mainly with people trying to tell me I'm wrong, when the market has been telling me I'm right. But of course the people telling me I'm wrong were mainly trying to convince themselves that they haven't lost a shed load of money. Good luck to anyone reading this who is still holding Bitcoins in the hope of the market changing direction anytime soon. For those who were considering buying Bitcoin at its lower price - good luck to you as well.

My money is still staying in my bank account.

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<![CDATA[Challenge Completed]]>Sat, 20 Jan 2018 00:00:00 GMThttp://robertcubitt.com/bobs-blog/challenge-completedPicture
I’ve not always been good at challenges. If I don’t think I can do them justice I tend to walk away from them. Where I have accepted challenges, they haven’t always gone as well as I hoped when I started out. I've had successes, of course, but I've also had failures. But I’m pleased to say that I have just completed a major challenge, one that has taken up three years of my life.
In 2014 I decided I would challenge myself to write a series of books based around the same character. I also decided that the series would have nine volumes. Why nine? I have no idea. I just plucked the number out of thin air. It was only when I got to about book three that I realised how challenging nine books might be. I mean, coming up with nine unique(ish) plots that would carry a story over nine full-length novels; that requires quite a lot of imagination.
Which is why I settled on a sci-fi theme. In space, no one can hear you scream. More importantly,  in space you can do pretty much anything you like and not be wrong. That premise is the basis for countless sci-fi books and films. The author is limited only by their own imagination and the ability of their readership to suspend their disbelief. Besides, I quite like sci-fi. So, taking a deep breath, off I went.

PictureImagine that
To complete the challenge, I have just completed the first draft of the final volume of my nine volume sci-fi saga, The Magi series. I’ll now let it stew for a while before going back and starting to edit it, but the thing is, it is there, it is real and it will, one day, be published.
As it is book nine of the series, I have already had to write books one to eight, though book eight isn’t quite finished. You may find that strange, but I think authors of other extended series will understand.
I have to find out, for myself, how the story ends before I can complete the penultimate story. That is because I’m going to have to make certain things happen in the final book and for them to happen there, other things will have to have happened in earlier stories. I know, from experience, that I’m going to have to create situations to make the plot work and some of those situations will have had to have been preceded by other events in earlier books from the series.

Think of it as a road journey. If you don’t know where you are going to end up, you have no idea of what route you are going to have to take to get there. Will you need fuel? Will you need to eat along the way? Is the journey so long you will need overnight accommodation? If the answer to any of those questions is yes, then you have to plan them into your route and they will have to take place before you reach your destination.
In the case of the final book (it’s called Restoration, by the way) I discovered that my character will have to get inside a heavily fortified building using a secret entrance. But how will she know about the secret entrance? Because of the way the plot of the final book is structured, I will have to introduce that in an earlier book, which means putting it into the plot of book eight and I couldn't do that if book eight had already been completed. That is just one example, by the way. Other loose ends from earlier books in the series are also brought together in the final book.

PictureHomage - AHHGTTG
The series itself is an homage to a number of different sub genres of sci-fi. There are dystopian societies and parallel universes, there is cloning, time travel, monsters and intra-galactic warfare. A nod is given to Star Wars, Star Trek, Dr Who, Red Dwarf and A Hitch Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy (and its sequels) and also nods to Terry Pratchett and other fantasy writers. There are no wizards, magic swords, orcs, elves or dragons, however. Well, there is something … no I’ll let you find out for yourself.

What I couldn’t allow to happen is for book eight to be finished, then find out I needed another character or sub plot for book nine and have no way of introducing either.

Each book of the series stands on its own two feet. You can start in the middle of the series and not have to have read any of the earlier books and you can put the book down and not have to worry about knowing how the final story works out but, of course, as the author, I hope you’ll want to keep reading.

I’m pleased to say that the series has developed something of a cult following. In film parlance that means that not many people have seen it and in book parlance it means that I have a very select group of fans - but you are dedicated and loyal.

But one of the best known films in the world only had a cult following in its early days, so I hope I’m able, one day, to emulate that sort of success.
To find out more about The Magi series and the four volumes that have already been published, click here. or go to my publisher's website, which you can access below.

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