Friday, December 30, 2005

More With Less

Recently Nicholas Negroponte of the MIT media lab announced the initiative to build a $100 computer. Why haven’t we done this before with other things? There is a quote from Einstein that seems to fit: "Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius -- and a lot of courage -- to move in the opposite direction". Ever look at a house and think to yourself, how could that pile of sheet rock and lumber be worth $100,000 dollars? Would you live in a house that did almost everything a normal house did but only cost $10,000 dollars? What would you do with the other $90,000 dollars? Would you work less and have more free time? Isn’t innovation great?

Inevitable Power

Technology will progress and information about it will become free and accessible to all who seek it. So what will happen if everyone can make a bomb, a missile, a poison, a biological weapon ? If you take the society of today and give it the technology of tomorrow it will be a very dangerous place to live, perhaps to the point of oblivion. So one thing has to change, society or the availability of hazardous information. Police states work nicely for keeping information under wraps, but they are not very fun to live in and they are easily corrupted. You could abolish all privacy, make all private information, and private spaces in homes and offices accessible to anyone at anytime, kind of a police state of nosey neighbors. But this would lead to abuses of the information. So what is left ? Some how diffuse all of the social conflict that leads to people resorting to violence to achieve their goals. Doesn’t sound easy. You can attack this problem on two fronts, conflict resolution, and the goals of people. On the conflict resolution side you need allot of skilled people that can wheel and deal and create new solutions and opportunities, both locally and globaly, kind of a hyper-creative politician /social worker. Not an easy job but necessary. The second part is the societal goals. The world is full of frustrated people with no opportunities and a limited set of ideas on how to get out of their situation, most of them not very good. So you need kind of a directory of ideas and possibilities, a vast repository of all the ideas people have of what is worth chasing, what is important, and why. And once someone has decided what they are going to set out to do, there is another directory of resources of people with similar goals, resources, businesses, books, everything. And of because all this doesn’t happen on its own, you need people and resources to go everywhere there are people in need, to build the basics, food, shelter, medical care, and education, to kick start the whole system. And if in the end, everyone hasn’t found a way to live together and resolve their differences we have lots of crime, terrorists, wars, and police states to look forward to … fun .

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Ultimate Document Format

On the web there are tons of document types, pdf, html, postscript, rtf, doc, etc. As a programmer trying to get text out of these documents to make them searchable is a royal pain. What if there was one format for everything. At first it sounds cool, but then you think of what a nightmare it would be to try and standardize all the kinds of things that someone would want to put in a document and all the different ways it is viewed. So what if it wasn’t standardized and fixed? What if anyone who wanted to could make their own viewer and embed it in another format or replace an existing format. The code for rendering each embeddable format would be stored on the web and anytime you wanted to view something the viewer is downloaded and run in a secure environment ( java, managed C#, scripting language etc.). The idea isn’t a new one. You can embed all kinds of things in a word document. The thing that is new though is that the code for the viewer is not fixed and it is not monolithic. If I wanted to make a smiley face that spoke when you clicked on it, I would write the code for the smiley viewer/editor, publish the source code (open source), and then publish a document with the smiley. When someone viewed the document it would download the code to render, interact, and edit, the smiley. When they clicked on it would say its thing. Each embeddable thing would implement some baseline functions, for viewing, printing, searching, extracting text, mouse and keyboard interaction, etc. And then I’d sit back and watch the innovation happen. Ever surf a 3-D animated document that updates itself instantly anytime anyone makes a change ?

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Global Debate

There is an application that is only half built in sites like delicious and wikipedia, which collect as inputs the categories of static pages and facts from multitudes of people. The world however is also filled with questions and answers and to each person a few are far more important than the others. What if everyone could collect all their questions and all their answers and debate and rank them, learn, participate, and discover. Each answer is in itself a statement of debate and linked to many questions. After a great bit of chaos the hope would be that a consensus would immerge and it would be there for all to see, more robust than any single philosophy ever has.

The World is Broken

The world is broken. There is no better task than to work to secure the necessities to live and then start to work on the great repair. There will be no prize felt more than making a fix to the world, no enjoyment of wealth or pleasure will come close to the lasting gratitude of millions through the subsequent ages, much as we are greatfull for freedom, equality, education, science, health, and prosperity.

The Best Question

What is the best question?

The question, the answer, searched for at the same time.

Killer Ideas

There are ideas know by a few that if known by millions would set the world on fire. The Internet will soon do just that.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

The Abyss of Infinite Possibilities

Growing up your parents told you to brush your teeth, eat your dinner, do your homework. As you got older it was, get a degree, get a job, get married, have kids. You know the story. Most people subscribe to these deep seated biological drives based on survival and hopefully prosperity. But of course there is more. We have been to the moon, flown around the world, peered into the depths of space, sent probes to the planets, studied the biological mechanics of life, and lots more. What have you done though? Most of the great feats of intellect are done by a few people of great talent who are given the time and resources to chase something. As a kid what did you do when you had finished everything you had to do? You chased what was of greatest interest. And as I remember it, I had a great time. But I also watched allot of crappy TV too. There is a phrase that comes to mind, “you either chase a dream or fear a nightmare”. Those who fear finish what is needed and then seek entertainment and distraction. I think one of the greatest revolutions in society will occur when the idle masses find their dreams, the means to make them real and accessible to everyone else, and expand the pool of people who do the great things. We all will then step into the abyss of infinite possibilities.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Best Movie You Ever Saw

Think of the best movie you have ever seen, the emotions, the feeling of something grand taking shape, discovery, a journey, greatness, undiscovered beauty, a rocket trip to somewhwere else in the imagination … Now imagine if you could live that life every day. Imagine the energy you could put into everything you did, the things you would create, the colossal collaboration of effort, the massive productivity of it all. But the world is not like that, people deal with thier limitations, there dreams seldom connect with reality and what they do everyday is adequate and sometimes even pointless. Is there a road from one world to the other, where possibilities are revealed and people ignited, where all the pieces can be sought and found, and the world rock like never before ?

Saturday, October 08, 2005

What Is Money?

Reality is packed with those little things that are there every day, and in a moment of insight you understand what they really are. Money is one of those things. Why do we have money? It isn’t real. It’s an abstract creation by ones government, built to be a universal unit of worth. It’s a monumental invention that takes millions of choices and moves resources, planning, materials, brainpower, everything that the human race is engaged in. Without money you’d need someone managing everything, well like socialism. But that doesn’t work. People are motivated most strongly by their own self interest and not a central planning committee. And money breaks down. People make bad choices and we end up with stupid crap. But if you look past the money, to what we actually do every day, who we are, our dreams, the search for those magical moments when you say, this is good, life is better because this happened. Most people don’t know what they want. They equate the monetary cost of something as it’s worth. But what is something worth to you. If there wasn’t money, if we could crank out Ferraris for a penny and everyone had one would you still want one? If we could make diamonds like we do chewing gum would you still give them as a symbol of love? In the end its about finding your place, knowing what you want, knowing what you do best, knowing how much is enough, knowing that when faced with death there will be somthing that mattered about what you did. Once you have that you don’t need any more money and you can give the rest away to help someone else find their place.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Budgets of Choice

Recently I’ve been aware of how badly the government spends money, disaster preparedness (FEMA and hurricane Rita), Homeland Security funds, the FBI’s $170 million “Virtual Case File System” that didn’t work, and the recent pork in the transportation bill. Why is it that the government spends money so poorly?

I suspect it has to do with something called “Tragedy of the Commons”. The idea is like this … some organization decides to go to dinner and agrees to split the bill evenly. Each individual buys something a little more expensive than they would normally, but in the end the total bill is more than it would be if each individual paid their own way. The same thing happens with people in government. They all try and get as much of the pie as possible to keep their constituents happy or their departments well funded. In the end we spend more money on more than we need to.

So how do we solve this ? One idea is to police the spending of money more thoroughly. You could create a Department of Fiscal Responsibility that has the authority to change budgets, but in some ways that just moves the problem from Senators, Congressmen, and bureaucrats to a new set of bureaucrats who would be less concerned about the money they were spending than a Senator or Congressman running for re-election. Another option is to create voter awareness of how money is spent in hopes that better representatives will be elected.

What is a government budget anyway? It’s mandatory financial participation for the civic good, doing those things that require collective action, roads, bridges, schools, prisons, military, foreign relations, health, and law enforcement. The way it works now, we take all our money and put it in one big pot and elect someone else to spend it. What if we could spend it?

The sytem works like this. Everyone is required to spend a certain amount. The budget would be broken down into categories and subcategories with minimums set on each category. Each person would choose how to allocate their money to each of the categories. As each dollar is spent the government tells you exactly what it was spent on. If you don’t like how its spent, the next time you move it somewhere else or even perhaps to another agency that does the same thing. Perhaps you can change your allocation each month to reflect changing circumstances. At the end of the year you could look and see how the government spent your individual dollars and you’d have a better idea of how good a job they did. Government bureaucracies that are wasteful would have budget problems and competing agencies that did a better job would grow to take their place or assist in their restructuring in order to regain the confidence of the public.

Most of all if money is spent badly, there is a fraction of the population that will know about it and make changes to prevent it from happening again.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Are you doing what you are best at?

Choice is good. Whenever there is a lack of choice you get things like monopolies, dead end jobs, bad marriages, general misery all the way around. The free market helps to increase choice. Company A is run by a machiavellian tyrant who does everything in his power to force people to buy his products which are bad. Company B is formed, makes a better product, puts company A out of business. Societal meritocracy and justice at its best. A kind of economic democracy where people vote with their dollars and decisions on what gets made and how.

But it doesn’t always work. Lots of things have to fall into place to create something new , like a company. You have to find the right people with the right skills, investors, someone with a vision for how to put it all together. And here too having lots of choices makes things better.

Why do we work anyway? Well to put a roof over our heads and food on the table of course, but what then? Nicer roofs and nicer food on nicer tables ? For most people that’s not enough. We have to do something that matters in some deep way. All that deep stuff that bounces through your head at night when you look at the stars, when you see people suffering in some far away country and say to yourself things aren’t right. Humanity can be so much more. There is allot of broken, backward ass stuff that perpetuates on and on and on.

So how do we get there? Who decides where there is? Don’t know. But I know choice is good. And I know that the more choices that someone has the more likely they will be better off tomorrow. So imagine this, every resource and every opportunity being know by everyone. Say there is hurricane. People need food and shelter. All the inventories of food that is available is known. All the people willing to donate money is known. All the trucks and boats available is known. All the people to drive the trucks, known, all the locations of where people need food, known, all the people willing to distribute the food, known. And most importantly the integrity of everyone to make sure that money is not wasted is known. And even better, no government to manage it, just people doing it. People voting with their time and resources, self organizing.

And this applies to what people do everyday. Are you in the right job? Does what you do matter or are you just working for a paycheck. What if you knew of all the job opportunities around all the stuff that really mattered to you. What if you could connect with all the people wanting to do something and create opportunities?

The Internet can do this. Connect everything. Find everything. Fix everything.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Long Live The Machine

Its the birth of the prosumer culture. The web isn't a toy, it isn't a shopping mall, its humanity organized. I recomend reading it in dead tree format when your mind is sharp. Its a trip.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Monday, March 14, 2005

Infra Red Web Cam Mod

Convert a normal web cam to a near-infra red cam by removing the ir filter.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Semantic Web + Wiki + Collaborative Filtering

What if you could have an open collaborative environment, like wikipedia, for structured data? Say for example if you could take all of the companies and all of their products and how they are used in lots of other products, who are the retailers selling them, for how much, what do people think of those products, what do people want that is just a little different from an existing product. Even better what if you could have a massive debate about everything. Take a statement. There are reasons that it might be true or false. There is data to support each argument, each one referenced. People agree and disagree and good reasons are rated higher and seen by more people. Each conclusion is based on a set of assumptions. If you were to present your assumptions conclusions based on those assumptions would be presented. All of it is massively collaborative, completely democratic, and adaptable to multiple systems of belief.

What is search and why will it never work well without real brains in the mix.

What is search ? Search is a question and an answer. Search is a conversation. Search is transient or it persists to notify you of what is new. But here is the real thing search has to start to recognize what brains recognize when they read a piece of text and abstract and organize the content enough that it can be used to answer a question. Everything else is just a hack. So search will have to engage people in some form. People will have to be the intelligence in intelligent search. So the process is to record lots of bits of intelligent activity of millions of people and figure out the patterns. Intelligence is one of those things that science is still trying to define and model, so its not likely that one can record all intelligent activity if you don’t have a way of representing it. One thing that intelligent activity does do is organize things. Organize by any number of criteria in multiple contexts and systems all at the same time. For example, food. Food can be organized based on its impact on health, nutrients etc. It can be organized based on flavors. It can be organized based on the biology of the things it was made from. It can be organized by the chef or by the factory that made it. So if you can intelligently organize things, it will help to intelligently find similar things. And hopefully you can take little pieces of how each person organizes their things and meld it into a whole that can be shared without any centralized library or librarian. Each person’s organization of things is a description of an area of interest and a query into a larger whole.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Direct democracy

An interesting spin on direct democracy that is as direct or as indirect as you want it to be. These ideas are also similar to Liquid Democracy.

Shared Goals and Web Sites

Interesting sites to share what is cool and find others with similar
stuff. - share web pages - share goals (definitly worth looking at)

Find Music

Here's an interesting search engine that finds music similar to artists/bands you put in and then links the results with wiki-pedia and iTunes.