Money and Politics

I’ve been watching lectures from the Festival of Dangerous Ideas in Australia from this year and last year. There is some great stuff, including David Simon, creator and writer for The Wire (one of my favorite shows of all time) as well as Treme and a number of other critically acclaimed things. 

I love David Simon. He is passionate and brilliant, and understands the problems facing Western cities everywhere better than most. In this talk, he discusses how Marx warned us about what happens when Capitalism goes unchecked, and how we laughed at him, and here we are finding out he was right. He tells us that Marx was great at diagnosing the problem, but bad at coming up with solutions. Interestingly, it seems that David Simon is also a great diagnostician, and also has little in the way of ideas, least of all “dangerous” ones in the way this festival meant.

Simon was pessimistic, but articulate and sincere. He said, and I’m paraphrasing, “If we can only get money out of politics, everything else might fall into place.” To me Simon is one of the great realists in the world. His stories are tragically real. But when he said ‘If only’ it sounded as if he thought that maybe if we all wish it hard enough maybe it would happen. 

How do you get money out of politics? Has there ever been a separation of the two? In the U.S? Simon offered an idea for a better system of elections, but no way to get from here to there. 

Money is a tool created by man to accumulate power. So is politics. And power is a nasty business. Even if we could get money out of politics, why should we even bother? I mean, if it is not too much to ask for us to magically get money out of politics, why should it be too much to ask for a better system altogether? 

Dreams of a destination are great, but dreams of how we get there are greater still. How do we get the money AND politics out of the lives of human beings as much as possible so we can go about the business of being human? The process of how THAT happens is the dream that I am interested in. How do we empower ourselves and each other? How do we take control over our own lives AND have community too?

One thing we can do instead of futilely trying to get money out of politics is that we can get politics out of money. US dollars: fuck em. As soon as possible. When you get a check and taxes are taken out, if it’s for the common good, thats great. When it’s for wars, (and it’s mostly for wars, wars on you, wars on your neighbors, wars on farmers across the globe) than its a crime and you are a part of it. Get politics out of money. Politicians use their power to enrich themselves. We can’t win when we use the play money that they gave us, with their symbols on it. Its not for you, and its not for me, its for the billionaires. Its their game. Money, US Dollars, that IS politics. 

Digital currency is money without politics. There is no Federal Reserve, there is no IRS. That is happening now. An investment in digital currency, or deciding to accept digital currency at your business could make more difference than every vote you’ve ever cast in your life. This is how change happens. Not, as we all found out, from Barack Obama. 

David Simon, as brilliant as he is, is looking for solutions from our past instead of from the present. 

We can get money out of our way. We can get politics out of our way. Bureaucracies are falling, and as Nietzsche said, “That which is falling should also be pushed.” People I know, people who could benefit tremendously, who are benefitting tremendously from the system we live in; intelligent, educated people; the amount of them who want to see this system fall is astounding. I’m talking about college graduates with careers, not homeless kids with face tattoos. But most people, myself included, want there to be something better to take its place. Or at least, something viable. 

Right now a tremendous amount of people are learning to code so that they join a movement, and build the scaffolding upon which the new system will rest. You can be one of those people. We can replace bureaucracy with intelligent networks, we can even replace Apple and Google with intelligent networks. (Although Google is smartly getting into robotics, and hardware is much more difficult to do open source. Until we have autonomous robot-building robots, which is a ways off. But I think that would be a great place for a big company, while leaving our information to us.) 

If you look backwards for ideas, you won’t find any. Looking forward, there are so many ideas it can be overwhelming. Good. Let us be overwhelmed in possibility and let us begin connecting those dots. Let us forget the old game we used to play called Capitalism in a representative democracy, and create the world a new. This is not a nightmare we can wake up from. What we are living is an abusive relationship. A deep trauma that has stolen who we are. We must build reality back up brick by brick, until we remember that we are the earth and the stars. Until we remember that wealth is not for power, but for living life while making sure our children don’t die of something preventable. We must rebuild our reality until the GDP, the flag, petty tribalism, the nation state, and hoping for change are all seen as what they really are: outdated fantasies. You are reading this on what recently would be called a super computer, and it is connected to millions more, all over the world, all in the hands of people like you. We must reclaim our ability to house ourselves, to feed ourselves, to take care of ourselves. We can. I believe (traditional) money and politics has little to do with it, and I believe that’s a good thing. 

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20 steps to a giant swarm of helpful drones for the people: A conceptual model

I have been thinking a lot about decentralization and how technology can allow things to be managed by a network rather than a central authority. I keep going back to an idea that I heard somewhere (I can’t remember where but if I do I’ll post the link) about a decentralized taxi service of self driving cars. The idea is in a big city, the city government or Google or somebody provides the initial investment of self driving cars with software that allows the cars to manage themselves.

If you need a car you send a message from your phone, the nearest one comes to get you. When the car needs to charge its battery, it drives itself to a charging station. When it needs maintenance, it drives itself to a garage. Payments managed by Bitcoin’s blockchain, etc. Using this model, there doesn’t even need to be a taxi company.

This sounds like a great project for Google and or Tesla, but not for us “regular people.” For true decentralized power, things needs to scale down as well as up. That got me thinking about how to scale down this idea to a starting point that is achievable on a small budget and without legal constraints. Than I thought, quadcopter drones are getting cheap!

What if you start with a quadcopter that could do two things: 1. Anything useful, and 2. Charge themselves when they need a charge. I figure the useful thing should be something easy like ‘hover around while lighting up and looking pretty at night.’ I thought the cell phone chargers that you can just set your phone on and they charge wirelessly through induction might work great for this. Could a drone could just land on a pad and charge?

The answer is yes, and people are working on it. The problem is that even micro-quadcopters need quite a bit more juice than a cell phone so the commercial chargers won’t hack it. These guys built one that works, but its a bit larger and more technical than hobbiests could manage. Ok, so no wireless charging. What about a modular battery that can be replaced by a small robotic arm like the ones used in car manufacturing? Oh magic internet, what can you show me? Someone made this already out of legos!? Why thank you amazing future world we live in!

So now we have a starting point sufficiently scaled down. The question is, how do you scale up from the back yard to world changing? The following is how I envision that process roughly step by step. There are still plenty of gaps and details that will need to be filled in.

Most of these steps represent increasingly difficult software and hardware challenges. I am not a experienced programmer or engineer, so I honestly do not even know how difficult some of them would be. Some of these challenges have been solved already in other projects, many have not. If this project becomes a movement, as more and more people work on it the collective intelligence of the humans collaborating on the project will grow exponentially. Every step is possible. The more people work on it, the faster we can get to step 20.

Ok back to the backyard:

1. Start with a small, inexpensive autonomous quadcopter, maybe like this, and a robot who’s sole purpose is to charge batteries for its drone friends and swap them when they land.

2. Program your drone to know when its low on juice, and land before it dies and crashes.

3. Add the code to seek out its robot battery charger/ changer friend, and land on/in/next to it.

4. Redesign the battery pack to be 3d printable, and swap out easy. This system will be replaces later when induction charging works better and is cheaper.

5. Put pretty lights on it. Now you have a flying light up friend and his battery helper friend that you can pretty much forget about (until it gets buggy and crashes).

6. Get more of them and add code allowing them to talk to each other (swarm).

7. Get a solar panel to attach to the batter charger. (This will add to the autonomy).

8. Open source everything so other people can add more abilities besides “fly around and look pretty.”  “Find litter, bring to trashcan” might be an early ability. Open source will also allow people to start their own swarms.

9. Program them to identify when they need maintenance, signal you before they break.

10. Program them to send you a text with their location if they crash.

11. Program them to send each other msgs with their location if they crash, and have one or of them airlift the malfunctioning one to you.

12. Add code so that they when they need repair they send a tweet. People in your area can volunteer to repair them. The drone will fly (or be airlifted) to the nearest volunteer. Other enthusiasts will put up their own charging stations/  battery-swap robots. Soon they won’t need you anymore.

13.  As people build their own swarms, neighboring swarms combine and their networks grows. The bigger it gets the faster and more powerful it gets (as is the case with decentralized computing which is only one reason why we should build everything this way.) At this point they start lighting up the night sky all pretty all around the city and beyond. When the government comes knocking you explain that these are autonomous robots, and if they don’t like what they are doing they will need to take it up with them. If they ask which robot is in charge, try not to laugh directly into their face. Remind them that these are helpful and friendly robots, and all they are doing is looking pretty and picking up litter.

14. Lets get really ambitious. We add code that programs the swarm to evaluate the intentions of other drones. If they encounter a drone that is spying or otherwise doing something that has to do with controlling people, they wirelessly hack the drone, download their own software onto it, thus converting the brainwashed evil spy drones from the dark side to the light side, and adding to their numbers. This is actually not as far off as you might think. Here is a guy explaining his open-source software that is about half way there!

15. When people suggest their own software updates, if it is approved by the community (of people) it becomes part of the software that they all run on. New software gets downloaded onto one new drone, which gets sent out to join the others. When it arrives the software update jumps from drone to drone via wifi or bluetooth, like a helpful virus.

16. People add more capabilities like a delivery service. Now if you need something under x ounces delivered, send a message to the swarm. Same as if you needed a ride with the self driving cars mentioned above. Order some beer!

17. The community adds other capabilities. If you need arial footage of traffic, or flooding a disaster area? They can now do that for you. Maybe someone figures out how they can fly along powerlines and charge by induction while traveling. Now these things can be helpful in a huge number of ways.

The maintenance and charging may be automated, but it costs (digital) money. If you want something delivered or video taken, they will charge you bitcoin to an account. We have developed software that keeps track of the maintenance costs of the swarm. They charge only as much as needed to keep going. Services that benefit an individual (like a delivery) cost money. Services that benefit society (like the pretty lights and the litter pick up) are free. Now people that fix the drones in the growing swarm can be compensated. Expansion takes place when people like you and me build more and add their own, which is also compensated. This is a non-profit situation. Like many people, drones do not require a profit motive. They just need purpose, and a little TLC.

19. As they get smarter, they will become more capable on every level. This means they need to have good values, which means that we need to have good values. Everything about this system is about being helpful rather than harmful. “Do no harm” should be hard-coded at every level. I believe the open source community is up to the task.

20. As creator of the first swarm network, you have no special privileges. You have no more or less access to any of the code, or any of the drones themselves. But there are thankful people who send drones to deliver you gifts of fine cigars, artwork, and home made candies from time to time. Perhaps you accept Dogecoin donations (I do).

Why we should do this (besides the obvious fact that it would be so cool!):

We are leaving the age of the gun and entering the age of the autonomous drone. Governments and corporations are building armies that do not require that they win “the hearts and minds” of people.

In its maturity, this kind of network of robots could be used to protect people. In its infancy, it can change the conversation about robots and their roles in society.

Jobs are being automated quickly.

This project could accelerate the automation of jobs, but it would do so on our own terms. Utility and value will be maximized while cost will be reduced to near zero. Under the current system automation leaves people dangerously expendable and vulnerable. Under a new system, automation could leave us with richer lives.

We need to get ready for the future. I suggest that this is one way we can prepare. We create our own “for the people, by the people” network of robots that reflect the values of the world we want to live in. Decentralized, open, connected, intelligent, and collaborative.

Lets start building!

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Decentralized Everything

Decentralization, the biggest trend in a century and the best hope for humanity. Decentralized systems are purported to be far more efficient than the hierarchical bureaucracies we have now. They are flat by definition, eliminating the possibility of corruption on many levels. Someone named David A. Johnson suggests the following law: “Whatever can be decentralized will be decentralized.” The following is a thought experiment on just how far I think this could go. 

 

You live in an apartment in downtown Oakland and you want to buy flowers for your mother for mothers day. You get on your phone, which was made out of component parts by people that live in your neighborhood. Your phone’s open source software allows it to use its bluetooth to connect to all of the other phones in the world in a big mesh network. You open a decentralized app and type in “I need a nice bouquet of flowers sent to 123 Momshouse Lane today. Can pay .05 Bitcoin.” Your phone has an idea of where all of the people in Oakland that grow flowers are. An encrypted version of this message hops from phone to phone using wifi and bluetooth until it reaches the flower growers and decrypts. This takes .001 seconds. Three of the flower growers respond right away. They bid on the flower job until one of them offers the best bouquet for the least money.  The winner sends a message back to you and another message automatically goes through the mesh to the nearest delivery drone. The drone gets to the flower grower at about the same time he or she is done making the bouquet. The drone delivers the flowers to your mother, and sends a confirmation message to your phone, which automatically releases the .05 Bitcoin to the flower growers wallet. 

There is no phone company, just people who love making things like phones. There is no carrier or ISP, your phone has all it needs built into it to access the internet. There is no search engine company, everyone manages the software used to search the web. There are no flower companies, just people who like to grow flowers and are willing to send them to others for a fee. There is no drone company. Drones are bid on in the same way that the flowers are. When drones need servicing or replacing the drone knows and sends out a request. People bid on the opportunity to fix it, just like the flower growers bid on that job. There are just drones and people who like fixing them. There is no bank, just a few thousand digital currencies, and their block chains, the software that makes this all possible. There are no jobs, just things that need to get done and people who know how to do them. 

 

You look out your window and think about what you might want to order for dinner. Cacey up the block makes great roasted chicken from her own chickens. You might get that. Your phone buzzes with one request for your home made honey and a bid on a mural. You send back your prices for both across the grid. Business is good. There is no business. 

 

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Why Dogecoin and Coinye are only kind of a joke

 

 

Predicting the future of the internet is never an easy thing to do. Back in the early 90’s when the internet was essentially email and a digital yellow pages there were a savvy few that had any idea that there would be Amazon.com or even Napster, which was founded in 1999. In 1999, I was 15 years old, and didn’t think much about the future of the internet. I was too excited that I could download “Bittersweet Symphony” in a mere 4 hours. But I would bet all the digital-currency in the world that even the most forward thinking innovator in the world in 1999 could not have predicted “Coinye” to come along. Coinye is a digital currency based on the Bitcoin model, with the odd distinction of being named after the rapper Kanye West, and bearing his likeness on the face of it.

 

Try to imagine something more difficult to explain to someone in 1999. Young people today with their… new forms of currency? It’s incredible.

 

I am not an economist (who trusts them anymore anyway) but I am a relentlessly curious person, and a constant student of whatever that curiosity leads me to. Few things have been as curious to me lately as digital currency. I do not care to be an expert in any one thing, but I am driven to understand things well enough to find some meaning in them. I want to know the implications. I think, when it comes to highly technical subjects like this, that it is how most people want to learn. “I don’t care how it works, just explain to me what the heck this means.”

 

The first question people have about something like Coinye is why? The short answer, as it often is, is why not. The long answer requires an explanation of it’s parent currency, Bitcoin. Here is my very rough and incomplete explanation:

 

Bitcoin arrived on the scene in 2009 and has been doing very well. At least the people who bought into it early are doing very well, since the value of a Bitcoin has risen from essentially nothing to around $1000 per digital coin. While having the property of increasing in value is only one way in which we might measure how “well” a currency is doing, it is arguably the sole measure of how a stock is doing. Bitcoin is doing fantastic as an investment, despite the fact that it is subject to drop in value dramatically and unpredictably.

 

Some other ways to measure how well a currency is doing are the amount of users of the currency, the stability, and the ease with which it can be used. Bitcoin has a relatively small user base, but it is growing. It has terrible stability, but can only appreciate in the long run by design, due to the finite amount of Bitcoins that can be created. Ease of use is debatable: While it is almost impossible to use at a store (so far), it can be used incredibly easily on the internet, transferring wealth almost anonymously, nearly instantly, with no middle man and no fees. The point is, it is great at some things and not great at other things. There are also a few other “serious” digital currencies that have emerged along side of Bitcoin, such as Litecoin, which take a similar approach.

 

Bitcoin is open source, which means that you can look at the code that makes it work, copy it, and tweak it, much like how the internet, Linux, and a tremendous amount of other things we use were built. While you cannot go and alter Bitcoin’s code and change how Bitcoin works like you can with some open source projects, the greater concept of digital currency is an ongoing collaborative project where people can create new currencies using previous innovations and adding their own. This was done with lighthearted internet geek flair with Coinye, and prior to that Dodgecoin, Coinye’s predecessor, which was an homage to a internet dog meme. This is all fun and good, despite how many of Bitcoin’s detracters attempt to use Dodgecoin and now Coinye to mock the whole idea.

 

At face value, it is kind of stupid, but the implications are vast. These represent some of the first, careful, tentative and delicate manipulations to Bitcoin. Software engineers took a perceived disadvantage of Bitcoin (lack of pizazz, I suppose) and improved upon it by altering the code. Though this arguable has been done in order to enrich the creators of these whimsical currencies, and as trivial as the addition of pizzaz to currency may seem, there is a greater lesson here: less trivial improvements are surely on the way.

 

Coinye and Dodgcoin show how easy it is to alter code and create new currencies. This has never been possible before. Imagine a competitive environment in which there are dozens, hundreds or even thousands of virtual currencies! Like any competitive environment, only the strong will survive. Only the strong currencies, and more importantly, only the strong code.

 

Bitcoin introduced a number of innovations in its code that will likely survive into the next few generations of digital currency. Bitcoin allows for peer to peer sharing, which makes it possible to transfer wealth without a middle man. It also allows anonymity, which is beneficial for some things like avoiding taxes, and bad for other things, like collecting taxes. Most impressive, Bitcoin has created a system in which a currency can be regulated by an algorithm. Groups of humans like the people who run the federal reserve have tremendous power, which as we know inevitably leads to corruption. Algorithms cannot be corrupted, at least not until A.I. is sufficiently powerful that it can have some sort of self serving agenda, and the possibility of that is debatable to this day. What would an A.I. even want with power over humans? We can’t be sure.

 

The next few generations of digital currencies will keep the innovations provided by the creator of Bitcoin that it sees as beneficial, and add on some new innovations. Some of these new innovations will last into the next generation of digital currencies, which will add more, and so on. Perhaps, a way to address the problem of stability, or a way to easily use them at your local corner store. What we are seeing with Bitcoin is the birth of a new species of currency, into a system that is favorable for rapid evolution. Not biological evolution, but not figurative evolution either. Real digital/cultural evolution that was powerful enough to create the entire internet and continues to change our lives more and more.

 

The conversation about Bitcoin is largely between those who are convinced that Bitcoin is the way of the future, and those who think it is nothing more than a pyramid scheme. As I understand it, Bitcoin is neither of these things. However, it is only a matter of time until the progeny of Bitcoin make the Federal Reserve, Bank of America, Visa, and Western Union obsolete in the same way that online video streaming services made Blockbuster obsolete. It will simply be a better product, provide a better service.

 

Bitcoin raises a tremendous amount of better questions than “Is this the future or a pyramid scheme.” For example, what is money? What do we want it to do? One interesting thing Bitcoin is doing is challenging our assumptions about the answers to these questions. For example China has recently decided to attempt to tax Bitcoin, treating it as a commodity rather than as a currency. Arguably Bitcoin is acting more like a commodity than a currency because more people are using it that way, investing in it like they would a stock in Ford or wool futures, and less people are using it to buy goods. This raises an important question: in a world where finance has become so speculative and abstract that it is difficult to tell the difference between a currency and a commodity, is there even a fundamental difference anymore? Is it possible that currency is simply a good that has properties that make it useful for exchanging value?

 

We have never had a choice between currencies that would allow us to think that way. We can choose the better coffee maker based on our needs, but we have never been able to choose a currency based on our needs. That is changing, and with it the way that we look at currency. With products, there is competition for who can provide the best one, thus fueling innovation. What happens when the most basic element of Capitalism becomes a product subject to the same pressures toward innovation as everything else within the system? What will happen?

 

This change in how we perceive currency allows us to ask new questions about currency that have rarely been considered. Instead of seeing currency as a stagnant object we must innovate around in order to try to solve the problems of our global financial system, we can now think about how we can evolve currency itself.

 

The possibilities are infinite and not limited to things like creating a virtual currency that has a picture of Bobcat Goldthwait on it called Goldbob Cointhwait. For example, what if we created an algorithm that tracked people’s un-monetized contributions to essential elements of the web (tweets, yelp reviews, etc.) and sent them all micro-payments in a new currency that is tied to the average value of all currencies in circulation in the world, with a note that says, “This is 1/100th of a Goldbob Cointhwait and it is always worth the average of one unit of every currency in circulation, so long as enough people agree that that is what it is worth?” After all, all currencies are valuable because of this kind of consensus. What are the limits of our capacity to agree on something?

 

What if we created a virtual currency that as soon as you get it it doubles in value for one day, and then halves in value every day after until it is worthless. This would strongly incentivizing people to exchange for it, and then spend right away, keeping money in circulation and preventing hoarding, but certainly would create other problems. What would those problems be? How would we solve those problems?

 

We can’t know the answers to these questions anymore than a velociraptor knew that millions of years later it would end up standing three apples high and bobbing around the road like a drunken auntie in the form of a quail. Or any more than Kanye West knew when he was an aspiring young rapper that he would be honored on the face of a digital currency. But we do know that the finance empires of the last hundred years are failing us. We know my generation, the millennials, are simultaneously the most screwed by the current system and the most equipped to change it. We can’t know the answers to all of these what ifs until we try them out. The concept of digital currency on the internet has introduced an environment in which these ideas can be tested with real people in real time.

 

Coinye is an early example of people having fun experimenting in this new environment. It is only a matter of time that these experiments will create new digital currency products that will be such an improvement upon the current national currencies that they will overtake them. Will the currencies of the future have pop culture references embedded in them? Maybe and maybe not. Will Coinye and Dodgecoin be viewed as major innovations to currency? Probably not. But while we acknowledge that the invention of fireworks was groundbreaking, its easy to forget that whoever first made a green firework was doing more than adding flair: they were adding to the volumes of human knowledge on the manipulation of gunpowder to suit our needs. Like Coinye, making a firework green was a fun use of a new technology. Like gunpowder, digital currency is changing the world as we know it.

 

While the NSA’s and Facebooks of the world continue to use technology as a means to political and financial power, people use those same technologies for the empowerment of themselves and their communities. If the technology can be controlled by a central authority (a government controlling gunpowder manufacturing, or a company controlling the servers that store all of our information) it can be used to gain power. When it is difficult to control a technology (peer to peer file sharing and digital currency with no central authority) it can be used to empower individuals and communities. The world we find ourselves in today is a place where innovation is happening at a remarkable pace on both sides of the proverbial coin. There is a new paradigm of good an evil emerging in which the struggle is not between this group of people and that, but between those who would empower themselves at the expense of all others, and those who would empower everyone for the benefit of all. Coinye is but a sparkler in the history of the explosive technology that is digital currency. And thanks to peer to peer technology, when the big guns come, they will belong to all of us.

 

 

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Big Data, Why Cities are like Mammals, and Why the Future isn’t Totalitarian

I’ve been learning about “Big Data,” which is a hot topic these days. One thing I learned about it is that for every person who is qualified to get a job as a big data analyst their are 100 jobs! In other words there are not enough people to process the ridiculous amount of data in the world, and the job security and money is good if you can do it. To prepare for the possibility that this is something I would want to do I am taking an online Intro to Statistics course at Udacity.

I also learned just how much data we are talking about. According to a lecture I watched on the Ted youtube channel, the amount of data created in the year 2004 was equal to the amount of data ever created in the history of humankind from Dec 31, 2003 back to the first time any information was recorded. We continue to double the amount of data in the world. Companies and scientists are trying to make meaning out of some of those numbers. In this fascinating talk on Edge.org (below), Geoffrey West explains how he took data about biological beings, cities and companies and showed that many of the characteristics of each of these things scale in relation to each other. In other words, in a mammal, the length of all veins in the animal is directly proportional to the weight of the mammal, regardless of species.  The same is true of length of roads/ population of a city, and the resulting proportions are the same. He explains it way better than I can. I was really blown away by the idea that biology and data analysis can be used to understand cities!

I also was very impressed by another talk on Edge.org (actually quite a few, I have added Edge.org to the resources list, and thank you very much for the recommendation Grandpa Hans!). In this talk, Alex Pentland, Director of the Human Dynamics Laboratory MIT Media Lab, talks about how we can use big data to redesign many of the systems we use every day to function more intelligently and more humanly. He talks about the issue of who owns our data and how it might be regulated. He also talks about how big data can enable the owners and analysts of that data to track and control people to a unimagined degree, and why he thinks the future will go a different way:

You could build something that to a first approximation would be the real evil empire, and of course people are going to try to do that. At the same time there are some elements of these forces that are really promising. For instance the architectures  tend to be things that have no central points, which means that there is no place for the dictator to grab. They have to actually go to every house to do it…. It tends to dissolve the power of the state and the organization. Because you can build things that are far more efficient if they are distributed without the hard boundaries that you see today. That means that the service oriented government, or the service oriented organization will tend to have better services for less price as opposed to the one that tries to own the customer or control the citizen. So I expect to see that these kinds of hard boundaries will dissolve because there will be competition from things that are better that don’t have the hard boundaries.

In this he explained and expanded on something I have been thinking about a lot, without being able to explain it very well. My thoughts on this were energized by the idea of wifi mesh networks, which is a true peer to peer internet that doesn’t rely on fiber optic cables or large servers, but allows individual computers to talk to each other and exchange information. I realized that if the internet can be designed without a “place for a dictator to grab” probably other things could to. The internet is one place where the NSA has grabbed us for the time being. We are also “grabbed” by energy companies because we are dependent on them for our everyday needs. If every house has its own solar electricity set up, the powers that be lose that hand hold as well. Same goes for big banking vs community banking, and the Federal Reserve vs. crypto-currency.  I always suspected that this would be not only a more just way of doing things, but also be far more efficient than top-down control, and Pentland expressing that the data supports this is very encouraging.

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A mechanical computer that aims guns, an alarm clock, and leaping from a train

This is an amazing  training video for the Navy from the 1950’s on their mechanical computer used to control guns on the ship. I learned a lot about how certain mechanisms work and it also helped me to better understand what computing essentially is.

I was also using Khan Academy for the first time in a little while, and found these awesome videos about how some common household electronics work. Like this one:

I’m also reading my grandfather’s memoir! So far I’ve learned about what the Swiss German border was like during WWII and about my family. I learned that his hime town of Grenzach had its own distinct dialect until the large chemical companies brought in a ton of workers from elsewhere. I also learned that the train used to go through Switzerland from one part of Germany to another. It would not stop there when the war was going and the borders were locked down. Guards were on the lookout for jumpers. As a boy, my grandfather saw a young man, risking death, jump from the fast moving train in Switzerland  and escape. It is a great read so far and very interesting. Hi Grandpa! Thanks for writing a memoir!

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Noisebridge Hackerspace, creating a community bank and modern machines in ancient China!

Its been a great week of unschooling! On Tuesday I went to Noisebridge, probably the most popular hacker space in the Bay Area. It was abustle! Equipment-wise they have a laser cutter, a wood shop, a few 3D printers, a small kitchen, electronics tools and scrap supplies and lots of workspace. People there were friendly.

On the negative side I went for the LED and micro-controller workshop that was listed on their website. However, only myself and one other guy named Yoni showed up and nobody to teach us! Fortunately a large bearded man was very helpful and sold Yoni a LED kit for $10. I didn’t have $10, but I know how to solder and Yoni didn’t, so he offered that we work together. We followed instructions and built a thing that lit up. It almost worked perfectly, and we had a good time. Coincidentally Yoni went to high school with my sister 2,500 miles from here.

I definitely want to go back to Noisebridge, but it is a 30 min- 1 hour drive depending on traffic. I will have to find out how I can check if a workshop is actually happening. They have a lot of great workshops on their calendar I would love to check out.

Here is a video about Noisebridge:

Here is a tour:

Here is an excellent Ted Talk by the founder of Noisebridge talking about hackerspaces, followed by another wonderful Ted Talk by another hacker space founder. The two together give an excellent picture of how amazing the hacker space can be and how important the movement is:

I hope I can meet the founder of Noisbridge sometime soon!

Hacker spaces have been noticed by the big boys. DARPA, the US military’s research branch, is interested in putting funding into hacker spaces, which has sparked a big debate. Though they truly come from all walks of life, like myself hackers and makers are generally anti almost everything the US military does. They also generally don’t need much money to accomplish a lot. On the other hand,  a lot of amazing things could be accomplished with that money as well. I think the bottom line is that the trust in the system has eroded so much that even if DARPA sincerely just wants to provide funding for innovation in the US, and sees that hacker spaces are a great place to put that money; if they TRULEY have no ulterior motive, nobody will believe them. Here is a debate about accepting DARPA money at hacker spaces:

On Wednesday I went to Rockit Colabs, a co-worker/ hacker/ maker space for a presentation about how to create your own community bank on the internet for free! Wow!

Rockit Colabs has the nicest space I’ve seen. It is clean and modern and has large windows and natural light. I didn’t see much of the facility or get the tour, but it was really nice.

Again, only myself and one other person showed up, but this time the presenter, Jean Claude, was there and he’s actually the co-founder of the website puddle.com which provides this amazing service! They were recently written up in Forbes Magazine! (I’m obviously really excited about this.) He told us about the website and how it works and answered my many questions. For now it is invite only, but soon I will be able to invite you. Please comment if you are interested or contact me. I am helping him put together another presentation and Q&A in Oakland (hopefully at The Sudo Room) so let me know if you would like to attend that as well!

Jean Claude was smart, sincere and all about the cause of individuals and communities controlling their own lives and creating networks of trust in communities! I asked if I could volunteer more, and he said possibly in the future. I would love to work for this company.

The other guy who came was a bright young fellow fresh out of school, and was volunteering to help with a solar start up company called Sunsynchrony. They have a patent on an inexpensive and efficient solar and are just getting of the ground. He recruited me to help too, and I met one of the founders who I liked. We’ll see what happens with that!

OK, so on to China. Here is a great documentary my father sent me about how many modern machines “invented” by Europeans a couple hundred years ago were first invented by the Chinese 1000 years ago!!!

This past week I also rediscovered Terrance McKenna. I was a huge fan of his when I was big into psychedelics. Than I had a few scary psychedelic trips and for sanity reasons I dismissed much of what I was into as hogwash, and he was the proverbial wet, now cold baby. I’m sorry baby McKenna! I love you!

Mr. McKenna is written off as a nut by the strait academics and to be fair has a few VERY STRANGE ideas. It’s wonderful. I can’t say I agree with everything he says, but its all very interesting. He has an overwhelming quantity of knowledge in his head and has novel and fascinating theories on everything from how human consciousness began (stoned ape theory), to what time actually is (novelty theory). He is also funny. Regardless of how many of his theories turn out to be “correct” I think he is one of the smartest people I’ve ever read/ listened to and he has hours and hours of lectures on Youtube.

Thank you for reading! Please share this with friends who might be interested and subscribe or “like” or just express yourself however you normally do!

Finally, here is my favorite recent smart and funny thing from the great Louis CK:

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