Sunday, 27 November 2011

Storing money in troubled times

Whatever happened to those days when it was safe to keep money in the bank.
Admittedly in troubled times having any money at all is a luxury, but there are those who end up with the money and have to make tough decisions about where to keep it. The pensioners are also a population who should have a sum of money which represents their life savings that needs to be put somewhere.

In these times of low interest rates, troubled banks, sliding property values, debt ridden economies, a sinking  stock market and worthless bonds where does one keep his/her money? A financial commentator, one of those who always appear to have figured everything in situations such as these, came on the TV recently and said that the Euro was going to sink and that everyone in Europe were going to lose their savings!

Now, I am not as knowledgeable as this guy, but I would guess that you cannot use a word like 'everyone' in a situation like this, as there are always a set of people who seem to have 'insider' knowledge and manage to rescue their cash before its too late, including I might add, the commentator in this case. I will not ever forget one day when my boss where I worked in Venezuela, asked me if I had a lot of money in local bank. It must have been Wednesday or Thursday, because on the Friday Venezuela had to remove the link of its currency from the US dollar, a move that immediately reduced the value of the 'Bolivar' to half of its value the previous day. It then continued to slide so that after only a couple of months it had touched one fifth. Lucky for me I did not have much money in 'Bolivars'.

Now what did my boss know that I did not? However let us leave that to one side and get back to my original question, which is where should we keep our money, assuming we have some. I dont think we should rush out to buy Greek government bonds or those of Italy or Spain because of the risk associated with them. Banks are an option, however only a small amount is guaranteed to be safe in case of failure of the institution. However lately many countries have opted for rescuing ailing banks in fear of a collapse of the entire financial system teetering because of the heavy debts.

I am rightly confused and no longer laughing at the suggestion to keep all your money in cash under the bed!

Monday, 14 November 2011

Where are we headed with all this technology?

A local group of artists and intellectuals, which meets every month in a Santander restaurant, asked me to contribute a talk. Apparantly everyone who attends the meetings of this group takes turns to present a talk on a topic of their choice, apart from occasionally inviting other deserving individuals who come to present interesting talks from time to time.

What could I talk about? I cannot claim to be an expert in many things, although I do have many interests. Arts, photography, music and mathematics fascinate me, but I could not do justice to any of these fields. After careful thought I considered travel, but what could one tell anyone about travel? Dont forget to take your passport and remember to get the required vaccinations and those sort of things or perhaps share ones travel photos? No, that would not appeal enough to anyone.

Finally, it appeared there was only one possibility and that was to present a summary of my experiences with computer technologies through the years of my working life. However if I thought that once I had found a topic that the rest was going to be easy, then I was wrong. I found that it was going to be hard to pin down. Unfortunately the pace of change in the realm of Information technologies meant that I would be chasing a moving goalpost.

To reduce the chance of missing the mark I decided to build the presentation around past, present and the future of IT from one point of view - mine. This had the advantage that if I only covered some areas of this vast field then I could hide behind my personal point of view.

The start was easy and I could spark some interest with my first encounter with a 'computer', a term I had not yet come across at the time, in the jungles of Africa. Not many people in Santander would have heard of Kumasi, and even less have any first hand experience of having been there. The current state of technology most would be familiar with. We are all using or walking around with a quantity of gadgets that would have been mind boggling a few years ago. I still remember 1995, when I was invited topresent some work I was doing at the time, at an international conference in San Jose in California. I was amazed to find that every advertisement in the local newspaper carried an email address with which anyone could contact the company advertising. At the time this was still only occasional in the UK press.

Much more interesting is the question proposed by this post, ie where is all this technology going in future. The members of the discussion group in Santander deserve a proposed future of technology that gives them the opportunity to sink their teeth in a discussion. Latest research is exploring bacterial processors, Quantum mechanics and new materials for molecular level storage. All that promises ever faster and unlimited storage using a minimal of energy.

However that still leaves a hole in the imaginative and visionary view of the state we might be in after another twenty or fifty years. I am tending towards a state in which the Information technology environment will be not dissimilar from the way that nature itself handles and processes information. This environment would have holographic storage systems interconnected by 'quantum' links and processing by biological processors. Sounds like science fiction but this is more or less what nature does. Cells contain all the information in each one of them, neural links connect all the cells in our biological processor - brain.

So that is the possible future and I hope this enthuses the audience and let the discussion begin..