Category Archives: General

Essettes

You are a slave? Relationships always seem to divide the world in two. “It’s easy, just do what you want.” I was waiting in the hall for my class to start. When it works, it is amazing. I wonder if anyone will get it.

Your decisions are yours. Life splits: the one you have with your partner, and the one where you get to be honest. She was full of childlike — childish? — wisdom. My mind began to wander. The moments when God takes over my hands, I cannot fathom the structure of what I am playing, I could not repeat it in ten years. I wonder if everyone will get it.

Give it up, hang with the homeless, flee to India. The closeness promised is all too often usurped by a fear of hurting them. Perhaps I could have learned from her if I wasn’t so obsessed. I thought about waiting at the bus stop. Of course, it’s couterbalanced by the moments when he goes to the john and flushes the toilet into my fingers. I wonder if I will lose readers.

Trade this life of suffering for another; at least you chose it. It is this selflessness that gets in the way. I learned about myself, I learned about who I am when I am obsessed. I thought about lying in bed, trying to convince myself to go to sleep. If that happens during a show, the best I can do is to forget it ever happened. I wonder if I’ll love it.

And because you can choose that other one, that means you are choosing this one. We are taught to be selfless, always to put others before ourselves. I didn’t learn of her yogic ways. I thought about refreshing the page for the fifth time this minute. No reflection, no embarrassment, just pretend I’m better than that. I wonder if I’m a writer.

There is no slavery. Relationships bring us back to reality where things are not so simple. Those little snippets, always pointing of a bigger picture, pointing in a world I am not. I reminisced to the days of indecisiveness at the supermarket. Because he’ll come back sometime soon. I wonder if I am wasting time.

There is oppression, but even slaves can make themselves a beautiful life by trying to break free. Here, putting the other before you can be secretly self-serving; serving yourself can be deeply compassionate towards the other. I want to see with all the bases. I longed for sitting by the bathtub as it filled. Maybe next minute, maybe next show. I wonder about the universe.

They may not succeed, but at least they lived for a purpose. The simple mantras are never the whole truth. I have a big picture, but I want to see with hers, with Obama’s, with Joe the Hippie’s, with Bob from Management’s, with Evil Knievel’s. I dreamed of half an hour before I get to see her. And I will be.

Live for a purpose. God would never be so blatant. Even with James Randi’s, which as one of its vectors has that there is only one basis. Now it is time for class to start. I love life as a human.

Easy Read

The great artist, the passionate learner, the hubristic engineer. In the world of accomplishment, each of us comes to terms with our own lack of greatness in

just a sec, got a text

our own lack of greatness in different ways. Some of us… um, where was I? Some of us see our lives as a struggle against our demons, causing us to procrastinate and take time on things that are not truly important. Others have convinced themselves of their comfort with their place in society, happy to be working on a fun project with fun people, quietly dying of not making a real difference.

Oh did you see that #occupywallst had bigger attendance today than ever before? I think it’s a pretty cool movement, even though they don’t really have a message. No, I mean maybe I’ll go someday soon, but I’m just interested to see how it develops.

So, yeah, as I was saying. One does not need to be a creative type to be a slave to our modern emptiness. The search for real love, life fulfillment, or a family to devote yourself to. There is always something standing between your life as it is and the life of your dreams. Even those great people we idolize are living in this disparity; the life they want being something other than the life of greatness we perceive. It is the only way we have motivation to grow.

However, I do not mean to dismiss it. There are traps. For years at a time we may find ourselves piddling away our time on something that is not important — a time we could be using for growing. It reminds me of a youtube video I saw. sec. It was something about a

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sorry

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sorry about that, g/f im’d me.

Right, youtube. What was I looking up? Ugh, that’s frustrating. Oh well.

What I’m saying is that we never reach the potential we set for ourselves, but we can still become great. There are ways to refocus our energy not on distracting ourselves from realizing our shortcomings, but on achieving pieces of the ever-changing life goals. Just because you can’t reach it doesn’t mean you can’t move nearer. But it does require us to step back for a moment and see, is this one of those piddling times? Are we truly, deeply satisfied with our progress along our path right now? Or are we hiding, in a world where

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Free Will

I have been going through an intense period of self-discovery and reconstruction. I realized that the path in life I have been following for the past several years is not working for me; it is not resonating with me, and it is taking me somewhere I don’t want to be. This realization was revealing itself to me at the same time as a complicated and heartbreaking end to a (short) relationship unfolded, and everything I believed crashed down and came into question. I was a programmer with no desire for a computer, I was a calm communicator behaving violently, I was an atheist experiencing God.

I believe that I am now picking up my pieces and realigning with my dreams — dreams I had forgotten or dumbed down. I’ve believed this several times during the past weeks, only to find another layer collapsing beneath me, so I may be full of shit. But all I can do is to use the best information I have now. It’s a very interesting, emotional time for me.

One of the axioms that crashed during this experience was the idea that I have any control over what happens in the world. This began as a grounded life principle: my attempts to control life only led to more suffering, so I should surrender to the flow of the world. It percolated up to my intellect, combining with the studies of physics I was using to distract myself from my emotions, eventually leading me to the confusing world of philosophy that I love to entertain.

The idea that there is something physically more to a human being than a physical system is something I consider absurd. The conventional non-spiritual idea is that you put more and more molecules together and suddenly a light turns on called consciousness. Humans have consciousness, dogs probably do, lizards perhaps not as they are simple stimulus-response machines, bacteria have no brains so certainly not. Associated with consciousness is the ability to make decisions as an independent entity: free will. Cognitive scientists are madly in search of the magical light that turns on consciousness, a holy grail in our search to understand ourselves.

My developing position — I won’t call it a belief, but I’ll say I am considering it and its implications seriously — is to reject the above narcissism. I see what we define to be consciousness as a gradual increase in sophistication of these biological machines. There is not self-awareness and self-unawareness, merely a band of sophistication in which we communicate that there is a definite “I” and that it is aware of itself. We can communicate that to ourselves, by having a little simulated conversation in our brains in which we say such things to some abstract person.

My experience, particularly at the end of the aforementioned relationship, showed me that a great deal of my self-awareness — my free will — is a hoax. I listened, I reasoned, I concluded the best action. I watched as a ridiculous prediction took hold of my reasoning process. I watched as I carried out, in a state of mental contradiction, the opposite of what I had concluded. I watched myself crying, simultaneously astonished and unsurprised by the way things actually unfolded. I saw myself not as a single unified “I”, but as an ensemble of communicating (or not) decision-making machines, combined with a mechanism retroactively justifying my ridiculous actions.

That free will I was so convinced I had struck me as a process, always living a moment in the past, existing to analyze and retrain my unconscious decision making processes for the future. I was a sophisticated machine, but a machine. I am governed by the same laws as a rock tumbling down a landslide. When asking whether it is possible that I will not push publish in a few minutes and share my thoughts with the world, I’m expressing not a set of a decisions available to me, but a state of uncertainty about what my action will eventually be.

I was walking down the mall and had the strongest urge to pick up a brick and throw it through a window. Jail schmail, money schmoney, I just wanted to do something nuts to release the pressure. And I did not; I watched the urge pass, frustratingly, as I didn’t carry out the action I had pictured so strongly. I couldn’t; my consciousness is not a decider but a justifier, and the action was not there to justify. There was no immediate reason it could come up with for why I didn’t — I was even disappointed that I didn’t. One might view this post as the belated conclusion of my justifier of that situation — that it does not in fact have control of my actions.

I see the universe as a great continuous four-dimensional tapestry, that I have the capability to view only a little slice at a time. I cannot ground the idea that there is some “I” which can cause the tapestry to be altered meanwhile existing within it. What could “altered” even mean in this situation: altered from what? I have been seeing this as a physicist studying something external for quite some time, but to incorporate it, to understand it as something I am part of, is taking me to a whole new place.

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Quantum Crackpot in Training

I have been working my way through Volume III of Feynman’s lectures, the one on quantum mechanics. A few months ago I watched his Quantum Electrodynamics lectures for the lay public and I was fascinated by the beauty and simplicity of the presentation. Now I want to dig deeper.

The basic idea is summarized in the quote (can’t find its source, probably Feynman though :-): “Everything that can happen, does. Physics is then reduced to the problem of finding out what can happen.” This is not philosophical many-worlds garbage postulating the existence of infinitely many alternative universes (I will get to that), but instead the interpretation of the Lagrangian form: if you want to find the probability amplitude of some event, you just add up the amplitudes for all the different ways it could happen. The generality of the principle is astounding, and making only very weak additional assumptions it is possible to completely derive the workings of electrons and photons (except for the mass of the electron, which is still a mystery). The rule is not just for electrons and photons though; those are just the easiest kinds of particles to get at. The entire universe works this way: the amplitude of an event is the sum of all the ways (including classically absurd ones) it could happen.

In the beginning of my studies, I was constantly tripped up by my conception of time. In the double slit experiment, a photon interferes with a version of itself leaving the excited atom at a different time. It was very hard to picture this when I was still attached to my idea of time and causality. This is the logic of the universe, not the dynamics. That is, we aren’t really computing the amplitude of an event to happen so much as the amplitude that, given some assumptions are true, some other thing about the universe will be true. We phrase the double slit experiment like this: given that this atom is excited at t0, what is the amplitude that this other atom is exited at t1? There is no notion of happening or the flowing of time, it’s just a connection between statements about the universe. Realizing this was an important step in my understanding. Of course, the way that these two atoms are connected does involve time — that manifests itself in the different “ways it could happen” and thus affects the amplitude.

Ok, so we have this logic which connects facts about the universe together as amplitudes, which are complex numbers. How do we take these amplitudes and get some information we can use? The rule is: the probability of an event, er I mean, a fact, is proportional to the absolute square of the amplitude. Simple enough. So you set up an experiment and calculate the amplitudes for all the different ways it could come out (you have to calculate all the ways, because the probability is only proportional, so you need to normalize them so they sum to one — I find this unsatisfying). Then you do the experiment, and what actually happens at the end of the experiment is one of those ways, proportional to the absolute square of the amplitude for that way.

This is extremely unsatisfying to me. Almost all of the resources I have used for learning QM have described it this way and left it at that. I’m pretty sure it’s because nobody really knows the answer to the next question: when, exactly, do you take the absolute square? If you take it too soon, e.g. before “the experiment” is over, then you will lose the interference effects and do not get an accurate answer. But you can’t just delay taking it forever, because then you only ever have amplitudes, not probabilities. There is this arbitrary barrier between the “quantum” world and the “real” world, and that’s when you take the absolute square. This is intentionally ignoring the idea that your experiment apparatus, your measuring devices, etc. are all governed by the quantum logic above as well, because that is too hard to think about. This is the piece I am determined to understand; I am interested in QM philosophically, not practically, so it is not at all satisfying to me to say “it works in practice, get used to it.”

The theory of quantum decoherence provides half of the answer. It shows how this interpretation of the barrier is equivalent to the state of the experimental apparatus (including the state of you, the scientist performing the experiment) becoming entangled with what happened in the experiment. Eventually the whole universe gets entangled with the result of the experiment and that’s what “really happened”. God got a bunch of amplitudes for the way the universe could be; he took their absolute squares, rolled the dice, and picked one. Now the arbitrary boundary has been pushed out as far as it can go — to the edges of spacetime — instead of being between experiment and apparatus. Quantum decoherence shows a sort of compositionality of this quantum logic. This is getting more satisfying.

I love it because it is right on the edge of my ability to conceptualize. All the “decisions” in the entire universe could go this way or that, and if they both lead to the same thing and have opposite amplitudes, they could interfere with each other and make that thing impossible. It is because the universe is a chaotic system, that small changes give rise to large changes, that we can’t observe quantum interference on large scales. These little decisions are very unlikely to lead to the same state. Entropy gives rise to the classical world.

When I get really deep into philosophizing, I explode into the annoying considerations of consciousness. Perhaps God did not pick a universe at random, but our consciousness did. Our memory must conceive of time linearly, it would violate entanglement not to, and that’s why we think there is a single “chosen” universe instead of the explosion of all possibilities. But whether all possibilities exist or there is a single universe chosen at random is likely not an observable distinction, so it is merely fodder for pipe dreams.

If there were some device that could measure some things about the universe, without disturbance, set up in such a way as to negatively interfere with itself when its measurements were “undesirable”, it could potentially control the way the universe would go. Now you see where the title of this post comes from. I have not been able to sketch this device as a black box, nor fully understand why it should be impossible. I suspect it has something to do with the uncertainty principle, the derivation of which I have yet to completely understand.

Quantum Mechanics is fascinating to me, and I am trying to keep my mind open to the deep, philosophical, passionate curiosity it invokes without descending into the insanity of a quantum crackpot. It is a challenge.

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Freewriting

I am technically enrolled in classes again, but my heart isn’t in it. I have a middle school teaching practicum (awesome), and a writing class (great), and a larger dose of boring bullshit. Are these two classes worth $6,000? Hardly. I am on the edge of dropping out again. My life has been exploding into worlds of hippie love and search for purpose. I am high in the clouds, riding the shifting winds.

My writing class has shown me a wonderful outlet: freewriting. It is my source of peace these days. I sit down, get comfortable, and start moving my pen. Whatever happens, my pen has to keep moving. Sometimes I just repeat the same word over and over — I have filled up an entire page with a single word. Sometimes I go on a deep symbolic exploration of my subconscious, exploring dungeons of memories. Sometimes I write nonsense stories, sometimes I just write nonsense. Sometimes I focus on the shape of my letters, sometimes I write as slowly as I can, sometimes I write as quickly as I want. I have hypnotized myself in this book.

It is so much more visceral than thinking. I am forced to stay with a thought long enough to finish a sentence. A thousand other thoughts arise and fade away before I get to that blasted period. If I were just thinking, one of those thoughts would have brought me back to the deeply emotional experience of breaking up with a recent love, and I would spiral down for hours. But when I am writing there is more force, more intention behind the thoughts, even as I go off into an unconscious trance. A passing whim is less capable of derailing me. Or sometimes I will be in the middle of an exploration when she comes into my mind — Moriah, I write — and having acknowledged her presence I can return to where I was.

It is important that it be handwritten. I love watching the shapes of my letters change as my mental state changes; sometimes it looks like a doctor’s rushed scribbles, sometimes it is deeply sensuous and feminine. I can evoke a sense of liberation by ignoring the margins, filling up the entire page. I can get a sense of spaciousness by closing my eyes and letting my words land where they will. Sometimes I feel the urge to draw a picture (I have drawn very little in my life). I have freewritten on a computer before, but it has never felt like this.

My right brain is waking up again. Welcome back.

Frameworks

I’m in a postmodernism class at university this semester. Despite the eyerolling of my peers when I mention the topic, I find it very interesting so far. Today’s class got me thinking about some math.

In the past, I have worked a lot with frameworks for doing programming and math. I wanted to find a fundamental system in which all my ideas could be expressed; I latched on to Martin Bunder’s IΞ and IG as being particularly simple and beautiful. I used to be a compulsive programming language designer, searching for simple, beautiful ideas with which to express all programs. I still have the urge now and then, but never follow through anymore.

In today’s pomo class, we were talking about the postmodern view of modernism (as I suspect we will be for quite some time): having some framework in which to conceive of the world, of all of history, and viewing that framework as fundamental. If that framework begins to crack, then we throw it out and make a new framework (calling the new one “modern” this time) in which to conceive of everything. Postmodernism views this cycle as one that continues indefinitely in this stage of history.

Some of the culture of mathematics follows this trend (ZFC, NBG, Löf type theory, intuitionism), but especially programming languages follow this trend. We are always in seek of new frameworks in which all programs can be expressed: structured programming (Dijkstra), object-oriented, functional. There is leakage, but programmers tend to throw out old models with cracks and adopt new ones as if there will be no more cracks. There seems to be a swing toward the functional recently — dare we imagine that it has any cracks?

At this point I suspect some of you are already developing your indignant responses. As programmers, we are entrenched in modernist ideals. I seem to be criticizing this cycle, and surely if I am criticizing then something must replace it. Whatever replaces it is going to be just another cycle. Indeed, as I indulge in my postmodernistic ramblings (which I assure you I have no confidence in — it is only the second week), in the back of my mind I keep imagining a language which transcends these problems. But of course it does not, because it is itself just another fundamental system. The key for me, and all of us trapped in this mode of thought, is merely to observe without trying to replace it with something better, something new.

Another possible response is that this cycle of reinvention is the only way progress can be made. That is a very good point, but in it we are taking for granted the assumption that progress exists and is desirable.

Programming is a difficult thing to talk about in this context, because it is a medium that we use to create things, and we can (at least roughly) measure how good we are at creating things in various frameworks. Being good at creating things is an implicit goal for a programming system, which comes out of the idea that creating things is progress and progress is good. Mathematics may have a nature that will make this exploration clearer, and then we can perhaps take our realizations about mathematics and apply them back to programming.

You might say that mathematics is about progress. After all, the ultimate pursuit of mathematics is to prove as many theorems as possible; or so those who study mathematical frameworks would have you believe. I have never been enamored with math as a competition to prove theorems; I like it because it alters (not “improves”) the way I think. I replace constructs with which I used to represent ideas with new ones. I used to think of real numbers as “fractions with extra stuff”, now I think of them as programs incrementally refining information. It has led me to think more topologically and less algebraically. Is more topologically better? I doubt it; it is just more recent. It permits seeing analogies that we could not previously see, but at the same time it hides analogies that we could previously see (though we do not notice that half, because we have already developed our intuitions about those using the previous framework). Mathematicians of tomorrow may only think topologically, and they will find more analogies by “discovering” algebraic thinking.

Programming is not so different. I do love functional programming, but that is because I have taken a lot of time to develop those ideas. There are object oriented programmers who are very talented at expressing ideas in that language, and I cannot understand their designs (or, perhaps more accurately, why their designs should be considered better than many nearby designs). Good ol’ procedural structured programming is still a good way to communicate to a computer how to do something fast. As the future drives forward, the past is erased; when it is forgotten its niche will re-emerge and it will be re-invented.

Watering the blog

In order to keep this blog from shriveling up and dying, here’s an entry, even though I don’t know what it’s about.

My thoughts have been consumed, after a brief detour following my viewing of the excellent Feynman quantum electrodynamics lectures, by CodeCatalog and its consequences. Even though there have not been visible changes on the site, we have stuff in the oven. The biggest change in direction came when we decided to support the process of coding, rather than just the result, on the site. This has a lot of consequences to our model so it is taking a while to follow the ripples, but we also get to support wicked stuff like this:

  • Automatically searching for snippets when you use an undeclared identifier (building an immediate vocabulary)
  • Providing a codepad-style sample evaluation, being able to extract sample evaluation into a test with a click.
  • Showing documentation for functions you are using and suggesting useful snippets based on correlations to other users (distant future).

I got sidetracked for a little while developing jsexp, an in-browser structural (i.e. working with code as syntax tree rather than text) editor. I had some bullshit reasons that I convinced myself it was a good idea, but really I just wanted to make a structural editor. After that proved a greater challenge than my justification-utopia had laid out, I had to abandon ship and refocus on what we’re really trying to do. Thanks to Jude for kicking me in the butt and making me step back — er, I guess it would be forward. :-)

So we’re aiming to make it a nice place to edit code — not because it’s the world’s greatest editor (although we are using CodeMirror which is decently spiffy), but because the world’s greatest standard library will be loyally awaiting your command with no hassle. That’s valuable to me, at least — every time I have to integrate a new library it breaks my flowstate.

My thoughts have taken me wandering around this general area, returning to my catch-phrase and the opportunity of software organization it presents. How shall we organize an infinitely large (in the sense that it is open to expansion in all directions) codebase? This codebase can’t turn to mush as it gets big because its goal depends on it being big; how do we finagle that?

Anyway, up to my usual antics of long walks talking to myself, whiteboarding, staring at the ceiling, and occasionally not forgetting to water my blog.

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Sociocracy Game

This is going to be a short, idea-jot post. I have been reading up a storm about sociocracy. The wikipedia article does not really do it justice. It is a very interesting system of governance based on cybernetic principles that claims to achieve decisions that are in the interests of much more people than a voting democracy. See We the People: Consenting to a Deeper Democracy if you are interested in more details. It does not need to be universal, it can spring up in specialized circles and those can gradually “link together” to connect everyone. These are all desirable properties.

But I am no genius, so I cannot forsee all the degenerate cases that might come up, and I am picturing some possible degenerate cases that may never come up in practice. That’s why I want to give it a trial run. So I want to start a game in which we organize sociocratically in a toy country with toy issues to see how the dynamics play out. You could play a game where you get to be a political leader! It would be nice to have as many people as possible. And it doesn’t matter if everyone cares — in fact, in real life, most people do not get involved in political decisions, so perhaps a healthy dose of apathy would be good for the realism of the game.

If you are interested in this experiment, join the announce group so you can know when we’re ready to start. Also feel free to share ideas in the comments.

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Information Economics

Some say the information revolution happened in the 1970s upon the advent of the personal computer, some say it happened in the 90s when the internet reached critical mass. These were incredibly important events in the history of humanity, but I claim the information revolution has seen only its beginnings.

Consider the case of the automobile. The transportation revolution did not happen overnight in 1897 when Rudolf Diesel built the first combustion engine. Instead, it happened gradually as the world was changed around the people as a result of this new technology. Oldsmobile and Ford refined the process of creating cars, and with that transformation came a new kind of economics based on the assembly line. The transportation revolution came to its apex upon the construction of the interstate highway system, upon which the choice of where a person lived and where he worked became decoupled.

We have seen the analog of the advent of the combustion engine and the beginning of Ford’s innovations. “The Information Superhighway” is superficially related to the creation of the highway system, but I think of that as an echo of the revolution of the highway system, not the revolution of the information age. We are at the creation of the assembly line, before it gained wide adoption. Google is Ford.

The reason is that the information age is about information, which is a totally different kind of beast than traditional commodities, around which our economy is based. As few as five years ago, businessmen tried to charge $50 for ready-made software sitting on a shelf as if it were a television or a bag of rice. But that is an ancient conception that completely fails to reflect the economics of what a software package is.

To see this issue clearly, we have to step back from our personal conceptions of money as a thing which allows us to live and operate in society, and think about it in terms of what it was when it was created: an abstraction for trade, which served to make society as a whole more efficient. Money is about allocating scarce resources to where they will most benefit society. It isn’t perfect at doing that job, but it is pretty damn good all things considered. It works way better than communism, which puts that allocation in the government’s hands.

Back to the television and the software package. A single television requires resources to produce. When you buy a television from the shelf, you are communicating “a television has value to me, please continue to allocate resources to produce televisions”. As society moves beyond the need for new televisions, people stop buying them, money (an abstraction for resources) stops flowing to the manufacturer of the televisions, and the company shrinks or dissolves so that those resources can be allocated somewhere where they can more benefit society.

Try to apply this story to software. Software costs resources to produce initially, but after it is on the shelf, all the resources it will ever consume have already been spent during its development, modulo its useless and wasteful packaging. Now there is a component of continuing to improve the software, but the cost of improving the software is not proportional to the number of users the way the cost of producing televisions is proportional to the number of people that want televisions. While treating software as a commodity does serve to compensate the creator for producing the software, when seen from the perspective of the economy as a whole rather than a single business, it makes no sense. The idea of commodity software is a misallocation resources.

Fortunately, the idea of commodity software is gradually fading away. We have mostly done away with the wasteful practice of putting software — essentially free to reproduce — into boxes, which have a cost to reproduce and are only advertisements until they are thrown away by the purchaser. But the model persists in the App Store, among other places. But note how the great Giants of the age are no longer using this model. Apple is profiting off of others using this model, but they are not using it directly. Google and Facebook will have nothing to do with it. Microsoft is dying a slow, painful death.

While there is a social realization that the old commodity model isn’t working anymore, it is not clear to me that anyone sees where it is headed. Google has hit a sweet spot where they can provide value to everyone without charging consumers any money — by collecting data about people, they make it easier for producers and consumers to connect when they stand to benefit from each other, and they found a nice place to skim compensation off of that arrangement. Google essentially has one very valuable product. Apple’s business model is basically that of a hardware company. But how does a typical software company work in the new age of information?

To explore this idea, I will take the vantage point of looking at society as a whole and follow the scent of efficient resource allocation. Resources are required to produce software in the first place: we need ideas, programmers, testers, and marketers. After the software has been conceived of, written, and tested — that is, at the point when the consumer uses the software — all the resources required for producing the software have already been expended. It is nonsense to charge people at this point; society would benefit more if you simply gave your software away, because the cost of doing so is (almost) zero. We need a way to pay for ideas, programmers, testers, and marketers. The resources required for providing a product are proportional to the difficulty of its creation, not the scale of its distribution.

I picture a combination of Kickstarter and an economic extension of UserVoice due to John De Goes. Allow people to pledge money for the improvement (or creation) of a product or feature, to be paid when that feature is usable. The features that are most valuable to people will have the most money pledged to them, providing incentive for the company to develop those features. We are now allocating resources where they need to be: in improving the product, rather than paying for the vacation of somebody who created valuable software in the past, somebody whose mind and expertise would be more beneficial to society developing or improving their product. This is just one idea, I’m certain there are other models that will accurately reflect information economics as well. In particular, this model compensates those who implement an idea, but not those who came up with the idea in the first place, which is a place for improvement.

Observe how this new type of model has shifted the economic emphasis to one derivative higher. People are compensated for continuously improving their product and creating new products, rather than having one great idea and banking on it. This may frighten innovators: their great innovations now stand to make them less money; we now need to constantly work to create value instead of sitting atop a great idea allocating resources. But look at it from society’s perspective: we are coming up on an age of immense growth, in which every worker in the economy is seeking not just to continue the status quo, but to improve it! Everyone is an innovator or an enabler of an innovator. And this all comes from software being free to copy. When something is free to copy, everyone should have equal access to it. Any other way is short-changing society.

It’s time to stop clinging to software as if it is consumed when it is used. There is an economic boom waiting to happen, if we just let information resources flow the way they want to.

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Change a-stirring

As is the nature of college life, my consciousness is filled with lots of lost ideas, floating around like strands of RNA trying to construct their counterparts. This post is an attempt to write some of them down, just to bring my awareness to them and perhaps to crossbreed with others’ random ideas. No, I’m not in a biology class, though you wouldn’t know it from this paragraph.

I feel like I am in the midst of a spiritual awakening. I am certainly epiphanizing a lot. Knowing my history, I am probably just in an epiphanizing mood, and the true learning I am acquiring from this time in my life will become clear to me in about half a year. I feel an increased devotion to integrity and “right action” (perhaps dharma is an appropriate word). I am developing my ability to approach all situations from a place of love and compassion toward myself and others. This involves taking opportunities to stretch when I realize I am avoiding something from a place of fear or discomfort, taking time to mini-meditate and focus, and creating external reinforcement for my internal goals (this was a huge realization for me).

Last night I had an epiphany about mortality. It was the most potent realization I have had that my consciousness ends. That whatever I do in my life, at some point I will no longer be able to observe the consequences, that the world will continue without me. So even if I do help to change the world for the better (as we all wish to), at some point I will have to trust it to continue for itself. It makes me want to make my impact now, because every day that passes is a missed opportunity to do something meaningful. Anyway, this sentiment is tired, I have read it many times before, and I have to arrive at it myself for it to mean something. Without loss of generality I assume that I am similarly failing to communicate it to my readers.

This state of mind has stirred up an internal conflict. I went back to school to finish the degree I started, and now I feel like I have something to say and am too busy with school to devote energy into saying it. Do I wait until I finish school? I am just now breaking a detrimental pattern in my life: that of waiting for some other event to happen before I do the right thing. It’s a form of procrastination. I see it coming out through my school dilemma: I really want to work on this economic responsibility project, but not until I finish school. Eighteen months from now who knows whether my passion for this project will persist.

I am holding to my commitment. I am certain that school seeded the ideas that pushed me in this direction. Perhaps I can trust that continuing school will help me continue to refine the idea, so that when I finally finish my picture will be so clear there will be no stopping me. Indeed, one quality of my current idea is that I don’t really know how to execute it — I have some ideas, but none that is obviously the right way to go.

My recent thoughts about social issues share a common thread: the stable equilibrium. The areas in society where we have the most trouble (from my present, incredibly biased perspective) are those areas that resist gradual change. For example, relating to the theme of my my last post, Americans are spending their money irresponsibly because there is not a good source of information about what constitutes responsible spending according to each person’s values. Many people know what kinds of companies they would like to support and which they wouldn’t, but the information to take that goal and derive which products to support is not available. The reason this is a stable equilibrium is that companies must choose to reveal this information, and in the current climate, any company that chooses to reveal this information puts itself at a disadvantage with respect to the ones that do not. If the culture shifts such that most companies reveal this information, then it looks suspicious not to reveal yourself and you put yourself at an advantage by revealing your details. But there is no mechanism to get from the former to the latter — the former reinforces itself. Indeed there are many powerful people with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.

A similar pattern arises in the state of public education. Schools are judged and funded by standardized tests. It is the opinion of many progressive educators that the nature of the tests is too broad and shallow, and reinforces a superficial, fact-memorization-based education, the kind that doesn’t really produce competent students. But any school that experiments with its methods will deviate from these tests before it has a chance to show long-term achievement, and thus get its funding cut (or if it is a single teacher, the teacher will get fired by No Child Left Behind). The system discourages variation and reinforces its own status quo, so its problems cannot be evolved out by the natural forces of gradual variation and competition.

Examples of such equilibria abound. Reforms must be taken to the top, which is a dangerous place to reform because the effects are so sweeping. Reforms that should be taken to the top are those that enable competition and variation, so that gradual improvement is allowed to happen. Unfortunately, for the above two examples, I cannot think of what such a policy would be. (The latter could theoretically be addressed by privatizing education — indeed many private schools have very effective new methods — but there is a cacophony of social issues that comes with that, which includes, among other things, further widening the class gap).

In order to focus discussion, I will save my (relatively few) technical ideas for another post.


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