Archive for category History

Top Secret Rosies at Comcast Center

TL;DR: version: If you are free after work on March 20th, get a ticket to watch Top Secret Rosies for free at the Comcast Center.

A while back my esteemed partner (with a bit of help from me) helped arrange some events to draw attention to Top Secret Rosies, a documentaty about the first female programmers of ENAIC These first programmers are nearly forgotten by history.

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Capitalism is not free trade, is not markets, is not banking…

I have a lot of trouble talking to Americans about Capitalism, because we are so poorly educated. Many Americans tend to confuse trade, freedom of trade, markets, banking, competition, capitalism, usury, and other terms. The (we?) tend to mush them together into one aggregate idea, the same way we confuse Socialism, communism, and related ideas. We tend to be mush-headed about these, well, about many topics.

Capitalism is not just trade, it’s just just exchanging things of value, or specialization and exchange. Those concepts and patterns are much much older. Capitalism is (roughly) the combination of trade, accumulation of value, combined with competitive markets and wage labor. Capitalism is pretty new in human history, most historians agree it only really started in the 12th and 13th century, and really 19th and 20th century.

One of the things I find amazing is how many cultures and religions saw (or still see) capitalism style accumulation as immoral. Which is a pretty big contrast to Americans ‘civic religion’ of capital success. Usury was a sin, and the ‘pray and grow rich’ culture of American Christianity today is in stark contrast to the original christian traditions against capital accumulation.

Capitalism. It’s not trade, it’s not banking. It’s even not freedom to have a competitive market. It’s a set of behaviors and interactions related to those practices, where people put up capital, invest in wage labor, in an attempt to make surplus value. I beg my fellow Americans, please get yourself educated, and stop mushing all of those ideas together like a bad 8th grader homework assignment.

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Quick Update

I’ve had a lot going on, and have completely neglected posting anything here at all. There is an upside to being hella-busy, which is the next thing to do is usually pretty clear, but the downside is all of those ‘important, but not right now’ tasks become ‘important, but never’ tasks. Today is going to be a bit of a link-dump, I have a lot I’ve read recently that I want to get collated, but I don’t have time for a one-per post.

Google brought to my attention the Stuffed Whipple shields which could be the greatest cookie name ever. Secondary creations of Occupy $PLACE are grinding out some great stuff, like Occupy George stamps, Hot Chicks of Wall St, and link-farm domain squatters. EFF has had a good Security Self Defense page that fits in well with the times. There is also a good cultural thought experiment on living as a 1%er that highlights how weird marginal utility gets at that point, and how you almost have to be born into that class to get into the 1%.

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Prescience inventions

It’s always interesting to see when small company or team come out with a tool using a ‘new’ technology, just ahead of the curve of major adoption. One of those that intersect(s) my own interests is the Makerbot Cyclops (Structured Light scanning) as a precursor to the Kinect.

I’m trying to find some other examples of that kind of prescience. Please drop a comment if you can think of other startup-y tool or products that were released just before a major vendor dropped a eerily similar product.

Gitmarks Alpha, and Moglen Box video.

I just got some great gitmarks work done today, and an alpha version of it is up and available on github, along with alpha user instructions for setup/testing.

While you are playing with this seed of an idea, I highly suggest watching this DebConf ’10 talk that is a great exposition about data ownership(video) by Eben Moglen.

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America Jumps The Shark

So, I’ve has my problems with how this country is run, but an internet blacklist? Are you kidding me? You can’t be serious.

Seriously America, this is just dumb, and it’s the most unamerican thing I’ve heard of in a long time. And technically, it’s trivial to defeat by tunneling through another country, a proxy service, or something like TOR. I’m pretty sure TOR would route around that with near-trivial work.

The land of the free, eh? Also in the works: A bill that requires everyone owning a building in the US to send a set of their house keys to their local police station. You know, ‘cuz of terrorism and stuff.

Free and Open Internet

Chris Hughes has an interesting post on openness and the internet. I agree with the gist of his idea (closed is bad, open is good) but there are a few things I think need some notes or further thought.

Chris says:

Today’s Internet didn’t have to be free and open, but because of purposeful decisions a few people made, it ended up that way.

Which I find pretty interesting. There *were* closed versions of the internet in 1980′s and 1990′s. They were called ‘America Online (AOL)’, ‘Compuserve’, and ‘Prodigy’ (not the band). And they lost slowly and completely to the open network. And as usual, those that don’t remember the past are doomed to repeat it. The internet is open, because the best combination of standard & open technology wins. There is a curve of Open vs. Standard, and along it are some optimal points. Those companies, AOL especially, ignored that fact, and lost in the open market because of that.

The internet found one of those balance points in TCP/IP, a100% must-match-standard. And another in the venue of HTML + your_tech_here , which is a ‘you really should’ kind of standard. Apple has found one of those potentialities too, in their public API + private gate-keeping.

The question is not a black or white ‘open vs closed’ question. It’s where in the grey area you want to live. As I type this (on a MacBook Pro, running Ubuntu Karmic Koala) I think that, like any market, a mix of styles and competition, the financial version of variation and selection, will encourage companies to find that sweet spot. As the closed-ness becomes onus, people will switch vendors. Or at least, if and when they can.

I wouldn’t bet on Facebook being around in 10-20 years (too much of a walled garden). I do expect Apple, Steam, and other pseduo-open systems to be still churning, and bringing in cash for their owners. That is a great thing. Better than calling for government intervention, we (inventors, hackers, financiers) should be encouraging development of competing systems and ideas.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think markets can solve *everything*, but I do think there are enough geeks and funders to undermine any empire that gets too large and too closed. Because there is a lot of money is showing the emperor has no clothes.

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The Cost of Innovation

I find a dynamic tension between my own risk-adverse Scottish/Irish upbringing (*never go into debt beyond your saving*) and the understanding that sometimes, jump starting a project is the right way to get it rolling, and pay off the debt later.

The initial NSF grant to the CBA(FabLab Project) at MIT was $13.75 Million.
The initial cost of Hive76 was 3 months of $375. + a $1000 pledgie + ‘permanent loan’ equipment free (until we got to break even)
The initial cost of NextFab is around to 1 – 1.5 million (a bad guess based on equipment, build-out, rental, employee salaries, etc)

In all 3 cases, they are groups pushing to lower the barrier to innovation. Which is going to grow faster? Which will change the world more? Which will make the human condition better faster? Which is sustainable and scalable? I don’t know, and the answer could honestly be ‘none of them’. I clearly have my roots in the hackerspace movement, so I can’t speak without my own bias doing a bit of tinting.

Some of those projects offer jobs, and pay employees for the value they create. Some are new tests of technology and ideas. Hive ends up teaching DIY-ism and participatory democracy as a side-effect, but other projects pay salaries as a side effect. What I do know, is which of those approaches we (founders and are members of Hive76) had to take. And what approach hundreds of other humans must take based on their own limited finances. In the end, I believe the massively parallel and cheap inexpensive effort will succeed.

It’s just a gut feeling I have, based on things like Linux, the Web, and the growing distributed pro-am society that is emerging around the world. However it’s only a feeling, a rough belief with relatively little data behind it. If anyone has comparisons between massively parallel systems, and centralized control systems (maybe like car repair shops?) I’d love to dig through the data for some similarities and ideas.

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Ten Other Things Dr. King Said

The title of my weblog comes from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who was one of the greatest Americans who ever lived. I tried to write a short tribute here (and on my personal site) for Dr Martin Luther King day, but didn’t know what to say, so it got stuck in ‘Draft’ mode. I was not sure how to convey how Dr. King’s ideas echo and illuminate what I do daily, in work and in play.

So I had a great surprise when I checked ill Doctrine today, and was blow away by 10 Other Things Dr King Said. Jay Smooth already said everything I wanted to, and better. And best of all, he was simply to repeating Dr. Kings wisdom. Instead of repeating it all a 3rd time, just watch Jay’s version, and take a second to think about what change you are making in the world.

Being Creatively Maladjusted is what drives my personal, and to a great extent professional, goals. I hope to create a better world, live by what I believe is right. That change is valuable, and necessary. Capturing enough of the value I create to live a good life (aka ‘getting paid’) is important to me too, but it’s not my main goal in life.

Another reason to love old Ben

franklin1It seems ye old Ben Franklin pulled a cute trick (well, a million) before dying. In short:

In 1785 a French mathematician named Charles-Joseph Mathon de la Cour wrote a parody of Franklin’s Poor Richard called Fortunate Richard in which he mocked the unbearable spirit of American optimism represented by Franklin. The Frenchman wrote a piece about Fortunate Richard leaving a small sum of money in his will to be used only after it had collected interest for 500 years.[...]

Franklin, who was 79 years old at the time, wrote back to the Frenchman, thanking him for a great idea and telling him that he had decided to leave a bequest to his native Boston and his adopted Philadelphia of 1,000 pounds to each on the condition that it be placed in a fund that would gather interest over a period of 200 years.

And then in 1990 (200 years after 1790) that trust fund came due. It seems it’s now under the purview of The Philadelphia Foundation, but I don’t know for certain. Can anyone fill me in and/or verify that?

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