Posts By: Tyler Marpes

We’re All Going Loony

For most of us, access to the internet has become old hat. We can check emails on our cell phones while skyping on an iPad, and simultaneously stream instant video to our laptop. Our ability to function and perform daily tasks relies heavily on the availability of an internet connection. But what about the two-thirds of the world that has little or no access to the internet?

In 2013, a small Google initiative was started and dubbed Project Loon or simply, Loon. The stated goal of Loon is to provide global internet access, using balloons sent up into the stratosphere. Thirty balloons were launched in 2013 from New Zealand, and Google hasn’t looked back since. Up in the stratosphere (higher than aircraft fly or weather systems occur), the balloons network together using the popular LTE telecommunications system. This networking of balloons aims to fill coverage gaps, bringing the internet community to the remotest parts of the world, while also serving to bring people back online after a disaster.

How Does It Work?

Upon reaching the stratosphere, the launched balloons are caught in the stratified wind currents that are present at those particular heights. The winds travel in different directions and at varying speeds; this posed a problem of controlling where and how these balloons would navigate. An algorithm was therefore created, controlled by a computer at project headquarters, which determines where each balloon is in relation to the earth, and where it is in relation to its member balloons. For example, as one balloon is slowly whisked away from providing coverage to Indonesia, another balloon takes its place and assures that there will be consistent LTE network availability. Each balloon provides networking within a 25-mile diameter circle, relaying communications from LTE-capable cell phones to the global internet. Every 100 days, the balloons have to be switched out (a vast improvement on their original 2-day life). This ensures that each balloon is always working at optimal capacity and safety.

The Balloon

A fully inflated balloon measures approximately 15 meters by 12 meters, and is made of polyethylene plastic which can resist the temperatures and wind currents of the stratosphere. They last for about 100 days and then descend to earth in a controlled fashion. If a balloon begins descending too rapidly, it deploys a parachute to prevent a devastating crash. Hanging below the balloon is a box containing the electronics, radio communications system, plus two angled solar panels which run the electronics and charge up the lithium ion batteries so that usage can continue during the night. A big selling point for Loon is its ability to operate on a completely renewable energy source.

Goals Of Loon

It’s clear that the primary goal of Loon is to provide internet access for people everywhere in the world. While Netflix, YouTube and other entertainment media consume a large portion of internet activity, Loon has loftier goals, aiming to bring people closer into the global community and also provide services that improve quality of life. It’s estimated that one in three global citizens have no access to secondary education. With Loon, secondary education can come to them. Farmers can check weather patterns to ensure a healthy crop and to make sure their animals are staying dry and warm. Medical access is limited in a large portion of the world, so with the LTE internet that Loon provides, people can interact with doctors from around the globe. Google hopes that one day soon we can say that everyone is ‘on the internet’.

Wrapping It Up

All in all, Loon is an amazing project, and so far it has brought internet to a small portion of New Zealand. Conceptually, Loon does work, and it will eventually provide internet to all ends of the earth. However, there is still the challenge of getting the LTE-capable devices into the hands of people in the remotest (poorest) parts of the globe. Not only would they need the devices, but they would have to have some viable option for paying Google for the internet service. Thankfully, this is the only significant issue I see with Loon. Let’s give credit where it’s due and applaud Google for yet another brilliant contribution…. in the hope that, our global community will be a reality one day soon.

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All that is Gold does not Glitter

305px-Versailles_Queen's_ChamberGold has long been a sign of wealth and prosperity. Whether jewelry, coins or inlaid furniture, gold shines bright. A sign of power so much so that Louis XIV le Roi-Soleil (the Sun King) of France would have tapestries woven out of gold thread. Undoubtedly the golden age in France, le Roi-Soleil improved the Palace of Versailles and had more gold added to the hall of mirrors. Gold, even in our own United States was too a sign of wealth and used to back currency for some years. Now, buying gold bullion has become increasingly popular. Turn on the TV for even a moment and you’re sure to catch a commercial offering sale and storage of gold. But has gold lost its glitter?

Large nations like China continue to buy up gold further increasing their storage to 1,693 tons (a fraction of the US owned 8,000 tons) and they can afford to make these large scale purchases. When you spend $93 billion to add to your gold reserves, as China recently did, a minor gold decline doesn’t bother them. One would think that this macro-scale demand for gold would lead to a rise in the cost of gold. However the market is not reflecting this. Gold has been on a steady decline since January 2015 and may not have found the bottom, yet. Trusting the buying habits of these national reserves like China, Germany, France and the US (the top four largest gold reserves) would usually be fair play, but not always.

Gold seems to follow no typical trends these days. Increased demand usually leads to increased price. Instability with global banking systems drive people to buy up gold. Increased use of gold in electronics and industry tend to drive up the price. However, gold is still declining. I’d contend that this has to do with the relative strength of the dollar in relation to the other currencies. As the dollar raises in value (in particular its relation to the euro) there seems to be less initiative to buy the precious metal in the currency market. A strong dollar means that you can rely on what’s in your pocket, not what shiny metal you have tucked away in the wall safe. While national reserves can buy up large tonnage of gold, there’s something to be said for the individual investor buying gold. The amount of gold being bought can drive up the price, but the level of interest and the number of individuals demanding gold is what will lead to an increase in price like we saw back in 2011-2012.

Gold closed 9/11/15 just above $1100 an ounce. Gold futures tallied a loss as well as a fifth straight session decline. In order for us to see gold reach the levels of 2011-2012 the bottom will need to be found with gold. Are we at the bottom now? Some may argue that we still have a little ways to go.  In 2008 gold was around $800 an ounce and in three years it had reached close to $2000 an ounce. While the price is on the decline, countries are not selling their gold and neither should you. Increasing your personal storage is never a bad option. We may not know where the market bottoms out, but we do know that the price will rise again. As a precious metal investor, incremental buying (just as with stocks) is extremely important. Saving fractional cents on buying on the decline will ultimately lead you to a larger profit margin when the market value increases. Gold may not have the standing value as in ‘11-’12, but there’s no need to worry because gold will find its glitter once again.

Land of the Free, Home of the Idiot

testscoresForgive the suggestion, but it seems we may have reached an era in history where finding the village idiot may not be so difficult. Bloomberg reported that this year’s SAT scores were lower than they’ve been in some years. The SAT is a globally recognized collegiate admissions exam that tests a student’s critical reading, mathematics and writing abilities. This year’s students earned an average score of 1,490 out of the possible 2,400 points that the exam has to offer (800 per section). 

The two traditional sections, critical reading and mathematics, averaged 495 and 511 respectively. The writing section was an addition to the test in 2005 in an effort to assess a student’s ability to read and respond to a prompt in an analytical fashion. This section received the lowest average score since its conception: 484. The ACT, which is another (more popular) collegiate admissions exam, had average scores that remained relatively stable when compared to previous years. While the ACT exam tests what a student has learned in high school, or their ability to recall information, the SAT is more of a test of reasoning, logic and verbal skills. 

These statistics reveal much about the current nature of education in the United States. Regardless of beliefs regarding traditional education versus common core, American students are not learning. They are not learning to think critically, logically or rationally, and it doesn’t take any explanation to understand how this is becoming a dangerous phenomenon. A student, in order to learn, must be open to the learning process. It may not be a matter of which educational tactic is best, but rather teaching a student who is attentive and willing to put in the necessary hours to truly learn. As a biology student with aspirations of attending medical school, I know that for every hour spent in class, I require two hours studying outside of class. It’s not always enjoyable and it is certainly detrimental to an exciting social life, but it is what’s necessary for greatness. There seems to be a problem with high school students where academic mediocrity is not only acceptable but even encouraged among one’s peers. 

No Uncertainties with Silver

silver barFor well over 2,500 years, silver has been recognized as a holding of substantial value. The Lydians (present day Turkey) were one of the earliest makers of silver currency, a bas relief coinage which differed markedly from the bronze and copper coins that the Chinese had been using years earlier. Fast-forward two-millennia, and we find ourselves still loving that lustrous precious metal.

In July 2015, the U.S. Mint sold out of silver bullion coins.The high demand for silver is simply a derivation of low spot price and the (potential) upside of buying bullion in bulk. It’s also important to note the value of silver futures. Now trading at $14.65 an ounce, spot value is higher than what futures are predicting. CME data suggests that October futures will be trading about $0.10 lower than current market value. For large investors, this fractional difference screams ‘opportunity’ from the rooftops. There’s a big upside to selling now and buying again in a few months. Taking advantage of the current-spot-versus-futures situation would ultimately lead to an increase in the futures value.

But not all of us are large investors with cash flow ad infinitum. For the small investor, the answer is simple: buy more silver, and soon. I say this as an investor and also a student of the market. With prices of silver reaching affordable lows and demand for the precious metal reaching unfathomable highs, it seems that an increase in price is right around the corner. We have to remember that the large corporate investors play a pivotal role in market prices. When the supply is struggling to match the increasing demand, there has to be a squeeze coming. This means that in order to combat the excessive buying, the price of silver will soar in an attempt to manage the supply needed on a day to day basis.