Tag Archives: technology

Cryptocurrency

What is Cryptocurrency?

Cryptocurrency, in its simplest form, is just digital currency. It’s secured by something called blockchain, which is a ledger, or collection of transactions, available for everyone to see and makes it difficult to counterfeit since it’s distributed across a network of computers.

Basically, it’s like buying something from a store except everyone in a system with a computer can see your receipt, and anytime anyone else buys from the store, a copy of their receipt is also visible through every computer. If one of the computers changes any information on your receipt, it’d get cut off from the network, and your receipt would remain the same since other computers in the system have their own copy of the original. 

In reality, blockchain is being used for things like fund transfers, Non-Fungible Tokens (NFT’s) and even food supply chains to keep track of suppliers, not random customer’s receipts, so there shouldn’t be any concern from consumers in that aspect.

The security provided by blockchain technology gives people peace of mind that their currency will not be stolen or counterfeit, both things that are important when it comes to digital currency.

If you’ve seen NFT jokes on social media, you know what I’m talking about. In fact, blockchain technology is what maintains an NFT’s value. The purchase of an NFT is recorded and the new owner of the token gets to say they own it, but people can still right-click and save the content that was paid for. NFT’s are a whole other thing with a whole set of issues that people have, so we’ll leave it at that for now.

It all seems pointless and you might be wondering how crypto gained its worth. In this article, I will be talking about Bitcoin specifically since it’s the most popular type of cryptocurrency right now.

What makes Bitcoin valuable?

Right now, one Bitcoin is worth $65,200 U.S. dollars. I don’t know about y’all, but that’s more than my family’s annual income. To help digest the idea of crypto, think of it as a limited resource.

People like gold, diamonds, and limited edition items because they are often scarce and difficult to come by. At the end of the day, gold and diamonds are rocks that come from the literal Earth and limited edition items are never a necessity, but their scarcity is what makes them so valuable. In order for anything to retain its value, people have to trust it will retain its value. 

If you have a digital file that represents a dollar, there’s nothing stopping you from copying that file as many times as you want to get more money, right? Wrong. This is why blockchain is important. It prevents the “Double Spend Problem,” which is the risk that digital currency will be spent twice. Since crypto is decentralized, no single person or organization owns or controls the flow of the currency. It prevents corruption, mismanagement of money, and takes away control from the government, which can technically prevent you from accessing your accounts at any time.

Bitcoin is a form of money that no bank or government can control and is an alternative to the current monetary system we have, so individuals have full control over their holdings.

Can you even buy regular stuff?

Yes! More and more retailers are accepting bitcoin to make a transaction. Microsoft, AT&T, Twitch and Expedia are all merchants that accept bitcoin, but there is a long way to go until more people begin to use cryptocurrency as their main form of payment.

I think people don’t fully understand how bitcoin can be accessed and don’t trust in intangible currencies because it almost doesn’t even feel real. Our credit and debit cards work because we exchange real paper money so that our banks issue that balance into a card that we can use almost anywhere. We’ve always had a middleman between the party paying and the party getting paid and crypto completely eliminates that middleman.

Personally, I don’t think people will accept cryptocurrency until they are educated about it and believe it’s better than our current system. Not everyone is going to like the idea for a myriad of reasons, but the world doesn’t wait for anyone. The dollar amount of one single bitcoin should tell you that. 

Many people have issues with the idea of embracing digital currency, but many are enticed by the promise of economic freedom, making this debate worth some more research for each person to decide.

From a Podcast Novice: Here’s 5 Podcasts you Should be Listening to

From a Podcast Novice: Here’s 5 Podcasts you Should be Listening to

Over winter break, I really got into podcasts. Like, REALLY got into podcasts. Before that, I had a hard time getting into podcasts because I thought they were unnecessarily long or kind of boring. Plus, I had a bit of analysis paralysis because it seems like everyone is making podcasts these days, so it was an overwhelming endeavor to find the podcasts that I might really enjoy. If you’re new to podcasts or are a recurring podcast fanatic looking for something new, here are some of the podcasts that I’ve really enjoyed. 

  1. Dope Labs – Spotify Studios

Dope Labs is a podcast run by two female scientists who talk about trending topics from a scientific point of view. From veganism and fin-tech (financial technology) to Afro-futurism and skin-care, real-life besties Titi and Zakiya talk about the science behind some of our favorite trending topics in a way that is humorous and easy to understand regardless of your scientific knowledge. 

Average Episode Length: 35 minutes

  1. Dissect – Spotify Studios

If Genius was a podcast it would be Dissect. Dissect takes a deep dive into some of the most critically acclaimed hip hop albums in recent years. From Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly” to Beyonce’s “Lemonade”, Dissect takes one album a season and dedicates one episode per song to analyze the production, significance and reception of the musical body of work. For music heads like myself, this podcast is a great way to understand some of your favorite songs and albums on a deeper level which enriches the whole listening experience in general. 

Average Episode Length: 45 minutes

  1. Quality Queen Control by Asha Christina 

Asha Christina is like an older sister in her mid twenties giving you advice on dating, relationships, career, psychology, lifestyle and sophistication. When it comes to relationships especially, her podcast is eye-opening and motivating because she is straight forward about her advice by explaining the lessons she has learned in her past relationships. 

Average Episode Length: 30 minutes

  1. Recode Daily – Recode by Vox

This is a great podcast for people who are into tech and want a quick daily update of the latest tech news. I think this podcast is particularly interesting for UT students and anyone living in Austin right now because the Austin community, aka Silicon Hills, is heavily influenced by the tech industry, so keeping up with the latest developments in tech is of extra importance.

Average Episode Length: 9 minutes 

  1. Self Care and Chill with Maui – Amirah Morris

Amirah gives hilarious and hard-hitting dating, relationship, self-growth and life advice. This is a great podcast to listen to during any form of a self-care routine. She speaks to working towards your goals, self-care, spirituality and having healthy, fulfilling relationships. Amirah’s words are extremely motivating and she consistently encourages her audience to become better versions of themselves with each passing day.

Average Episode Length: 35 minutes

Texas guadaloop hopes to hover above competition at spacex

Ever since it first started about four years ago, Texas Guadaloop is a student organization that continues to make strides in both the scientific and technological communities. Each year the organization competes in Elon Musk’s SpaceX Hyperloop Pod competition after putting in over five thousand hours of work into their own design, assembly, and testing. The competition traces back to Musk’s 2013 white paper publication on the theoretical idea of hyperloop.

“The basic idea behind hyperloop is you want to reduce resistance and normally on this planet we have two main points of resistance with something like a train or a car. One is friction against the ground because of gravity and mass and the other is air resistance because you’re breaking through, you’re trying to occupy the space that air is currently occupying,” Javier Bonilla, Head of Business for Texas Guadaloop, said. “The idea behind it was to remove both of those restrictions.”

Texas Guadaloop Hyperpod. All images courtesy of Texas Guadaloop.

In order to remove the restrictions that people face when using traditional modes of travel, such as planes or cars, is to levitate using air. Texas Guadaloop’s pod features four air bearings underneath to help it do exactly that.

“You can imagine it [an air bearing] is kind of like air hockey, but instead of the table pushing air out it is the ‘puck’ itself pushing air down onto the table. So we have four ‘pucks’ underneath the pod which produces a very thin layer of air which reduces the friction significantly. If you want to get very technical, we’re actually powered by an electric motor, so that’s what actually makes us move forwards,” Bonilla said. 

The concept of a hyperloop transit system is backed by multiple theoretical benefits.

“The benefits to this type of transportation that, one, you can reach significantly higher speeds with significantly less energy required to reach those speeds,” Bonilla said. “It takes significantly less energy and, because of the high speeds, it will take significantly less time which will really reinvent the way we move and we commute.” 

According to Texas Guadaloop, traveling from Austin to Dallas would take about thirty minutes versus the usual travel time of about three hours.

“You reduce a lot of the cost that you would have with things like an airplane. So it takes around the same time to actually fly there but you need to arrive early to the airport. It has a lesser cost on society. Finally, if you want to take it incredibly theoretical, what you could do is, in order to have the pod inside a vacuum you need a tube, and you could cover all of the tube with solar panels. So the system itself would be an energy producer rather than user. So you could be producing more electric energy than you’re using to move people around,” Bonilla said.

In order to better gauge the impacts of hyperloop transportation, Texas Guadaloop is dedicating a portion of its team dedicated to impact analysis.

“We’re looking at economic impact, disability, [and] environmental impact,” Bonilla said. “To be completely honest there’s a lot of physical impediments to having a true hyperloop system. I think what’s going to end up happening is we’re going to have an adaptation of the theory into real terms, especially because of the risk involved. Going at such high speeds, it’s very hard to turn. So you really need a fairly straight line from point a to point b, which obviously makes it incredibly complicated given our current infrastructure and land rights.”

The next SpaceX competition, taking place in 2020 in Hawthorne, California, will be the fourth SpaceX that Texas Guadaloop attends. 

“For the past few years we have made it to the finals round and that is what we are expecting for this year. So hopefully we’ll be at the finalist’s round this summer in California,” Yile Cen, who goes by Jireh and is the Public Relations Chair, said. 

Along with two innovation awards from the SpaceX competition, they have also received numerous other honors, including the Global Students’ Design Showcase Award and the Longhorn Startup. Still, according to Bonilla, the ultimate goal is to get into the finals round for SpaceX, which is a process that begins when school starts. 

“It’s a grilling,” Bonilla said. “Project cycle begins in August. The August of every year it starts, you come up with a design. Around late November you submit a preliminary design to SpaceX. So spaceX engineers will review your designs and they’ll review the feasibility of you getting the funding necessary to build that prototype. If they think your design is worth it then you advance to the next round….once you finalize your prototype, and this should be around July, then you go to Hawthorne, California, SpaceX headquarters, where they have their own 1 mile hyperloop tube, and you have one  week of testing.”

The testing done at the SpaceX headquarters includes thirty to forty tests. Three to four teams are selected to be in the final round, where they have the chance to raise their pod in the vacuum sealed tube.

“We haven’t been able to do that yet so this year, with MIT, we ended up placing 5th out of the world. We’re the best out of all US universities but it was still not enough. The main goal for this project cycle, for the 2020 competition, is to actually get inside of the vacuum tube, so place in the top three to four teams in the world and then, if we do that, get a chance to race at full speed,” Bonilla said.

To create a hyperloop pod, the cost is about fifty thousand dollars. According to Bonilla this large sum would be impossible without their sponsors, which include companies such as Vrbo and AeroGo. 

“[Sponsors are] incredibly important. Nothing would happen without them, from many fronts. From monetary terms, it takes a lot of money to complete a project cycle,” Bonilla said. “From the school we don’t get any funding but they give us access to a lot of other things…we have access to all of the resources student organizations get access to, we have access to advisors, we have a workspace up at the JJ Pickle Research campus where we keep our prototypes and equipments. They also let us built a 150 foot track there where we can do all of our basic testing so we know things  are going according to plan.”

Sponsors have their branded stickers placed on the pod and become a sponsor by purchasing a package, according to Cen.

“The offer in return that we give them is, one, access to very capable and motivated group of students. We end up committing between 5,000 and 10,000 hours every year to complete the whole cycle,” Bonilla said. “So they [sponsors] know they have a very dedicated group. We have engineers, computer sciences, finance majors, we have graphic designers, we have web developers- so we have a very wide variety of students. It’s a very interdisciplinary endeavor.”

Those looking to join the team usually have to wait and apply in the fall because it is a year long commitment due to the project cycle. A little under fifty percent of applicants are usually accepted. The organization recently adopted a new incentive for students to commit to the entire cycle.

“We have a deposit system so instead of charging dues like most student organizations do. We charge a deposit, so you deposit $30 at the beginning of the project cycle and if you complete the project cycle you get $40 in return. So you make a little interest. If they can put their money where their mouth is, it’s more likely we can count on them. We just started [it], so let’s see how it goes,” Bonilla said.

Bonilla was a pivotal part of the effort to increase the awareness, funding, and the size of the organization. Texas Guadaloop is aiming to keep his efforts alive and attract new students from all majors and backgrounds. 

Bonilla
Yile Jiren Cen, Public Relations Chair

“Me as a freshman coming in, Javier really has done a lot of Texas Guadaloop,” Cen said. “I really agree with what he said, especially with other seniors leaving who have stayed with Guadaloop for a long time, I would really like to…learn to take on those roles as quickly as we could and to solidify the org and to bring new blood into it,”

While Texas Guadaloop strives to do well in competitions, the overall goal is to empower the students involved in it. Bonilla will be graduating this winter, leaving the organization in the hands of the younger students. 

“It’s been a phenomenal experience for me personally. It’s taken a lot of work to get it to where it is today…I can definitely see the returns. I’m certainly a different person from when I started the organization. I just wish we could do as much for as many people as possible as this has done for me,” Bonilla said.

Interactive media is on the rise

In today’s fast paced digital age where the entertainment industry is becoming more and more competitive, content creators have to find a way to keep their viewers watching. Interactive storytelling, otherwise known as choose your own adventure, is one of the ways they’re doing that. 

Illustration by Sierra Rodriguez

Although interactive storytelling, a story where the viewer gets to decide what happens to the characters, has been around for decades, content consumers and producers developed a widespread fascination with the concept after the release of Netflix’s “Bandersnatch,” a film where viewers had control over the actions of the main character just by clicking a button. The film became a worldwide hit according to Netflix’s vice president of product, Todd Yellin.

Image courtesy of Netflix

“It’s a huge hit here in India,” Yellin said in Mumbai during a keynote in March as reported by Variety. “it’s a huge hit around the world.”

Many viewers liked having control over the story and enjoyed actively engaging with it. Fans could even rewind and change their choices to see different outcomes to the story. As a result, viewers found themselves watching the movie longer than the suggested run time of an hour and 30 minutes.

Image courtesy of Unsplash

“I watched [Bandersnatch] multiple times,” Michael Garcia, a Stephen F. Austin State University student said. “I spent like an hour and a half after trying to get all of the different endings.”

Netflix has made other interactive series like “Puss in Boots: Trapped in an Epic Tale,” but it was not until the release of “Bandersnatch” in December of 2018 that the choose your own adventure medium became popular.

“We realized, wow, interactive storytelling is something we want to be more on,” Yellin said “We’re doubling down on that. So expect over the next year or two to see more interactive storytelling.”

Netflix has released only one other interactive series since.

Other entertainment entities have also tried their hand at interactive storytelling. Tinder debuted in early October, Tinder Swipe Night, an interactive 5 minute episode where Tinder users are faced with “moral dilemmas and practical choices,” according to the Tinder website. The choices a user makes allows them to match with people who made the same choices.

Eva Perez, a University of Texas at Austin student said that Swipe Night was a fun way to use the app.

“It’s like playing a mini video game,” Perez said. “It’s kinda funny to choose super out there choices knowing you don’t have to deal with the consequences in real life.”

Although Perez said that the Swipe Night does not help her make any good matches, she still plans on playing it.

“I’ve only gotten to play it once out of the three times so far, but though It’s not making me any considerable matches, I’ll play for fun.”

Photo courtesy of Unsplash

Both “Bandersnatch” and Swipe Night had premade choices where viewers could only choose the options provided to them, but other media platforms have used write in answers to decide the fate of their stories.

In February of 2018, former projection design graduate student, Alex Gendal produced, “It’s Your Funeral,” an interactive murder mystery theater performance where audience members used their cell phones to text in suggestions for the actors.

Courtesy of www.alexjgendal.com

“I wanted to kind of create a live performance that dealt with more interactive elements and engaging elements,” Gendal said. “And then I also wanted to involve technology…..The goal was actually to have the audience be aware of how much they had control.”

After each performance, Gendal surveyed audience members about their interactive experience. According the polls, 46% of audience members felt very engaged.

Gendal also asked whether or not viewers would be interested in seeing more interactive performances.

“Over half the people who came said yes,” Gendal said. “I think a lot of that was because of smartphones, because of getting them engaged…. It actually gets you into the story.”

Interactive media will continue to pop up in the future, Gendal said, because it draws in a younger audience. 

“It draws in a younger crowd that’s obsessed with phones and stuff like technology,” Gendal said. “People want to be part of a performance, [they] want to be part of the action, even in some small way.”

“There’s a future in [interactive] technologies.”