A Little Ludwig Goes a Long Way

A smattering of opinions on technology, books, business, and culture. Now in its 4th technology iteration.

I kind of love Wombo Dream

07 December 2021

I am kind of loving Wombo Dream. Endlessly fascinating. I asked it to create some Windows 95 inspired images, using the various styles, and the results just get trippier and trippier:

Win95 thru a blurry lens
Windows 95 imagined thru a blurry lens.
Win95 with an edible
...after an edible...
Win95 now with peyote
...now try peyote...
Win95 now with absinthe
...or maybe absinthe...
Win95 in the concussion protocol
...while in the concussion protocol...
Win95 at the club
...or while at the club...
Timothy Leary style
...as Timothy Leary might see...
Win95 after a lot of eggnog
...after the 9th eggnog.

Scattered readings from November

30 November 2021

Holidays, birthdays, family activities. Omicron! In the midst of moving houses. I am just scattered all over the place right now. Hence a total grab bag of things.

Covid simulation. Fascinating

An accelerator for fine art. Super interesting idea.

I’m only 20 years behind, time to jump into Processing.

Penpot — open source design and proto platform

Decentralized woo hoo. Yep.

22 emerging technologies to watch in 2022 – too bad all the web3 brains are not working on these problems

Some super smart software people have gone to work at Stoke. Wishing them the best, I hope to get out for a visit in December.

“Don’t worry so much about someone stealing your ideas. In fact, it’s probably worth working harder to get people imagining that they might.” – totally agree.

Boy, howdy. I was once a consultant to F500 companies and it felt like being a carrion bird.

Great counsel — replace pitch decks with teaching decks.

From Debt: The First 5000 Years — “The one thing we can be confident of is that history is not over, and that wherever the most exciting new ideas of the next century come from, it will almost certainly be from someplace we don’t expect.”

Eradicate medical debt for pennies on the dollar — RIP Medical Debt. Need to read more about, but I like that the debtholders take a haircut – there is no way all this pain should accrue to consumers.

ResearchRabbit looks awesome

I don’t know why, but I feel like I need an electric scooter.

Are you playing to play, or playing to win?

How to play Paperback. Count me in!

Recent Books -- Multiverse, Zorrie, Iron Lake, Blacktongue, School of Life

29 November 2021

  • The Simulated Multiverse by Rizwan Virk. A mishmash of ideas and abstractions. A little bit of quantum woo. It is an easy read but doesn’t really go deep enough to teach much.
  • Zorrie by Laird Hunt. A gentle tale about life, love, and loss. Everyone will find something to relate to in here.
  • Iron Lake by William Kent Krueger. Fantastic tale of love, loss, betrayal, greed, and murder in a small town in northern Minnesota.
  • The BlackTongue Thief by Christopher Buehlman. Tremendously fun adventure of a young thief and friends. Intrigue, betrayal, swashbuckling, magic, humor. Fun characters, well written.
  • What They Forgot to Teach You at School by The School of Life. Short read, discusses all the emotional and communications skills that school never really teaches, but that are critical to an adult.

Recent Books -- Hell Of A Book, Escape from Rome, Wilkes Insurrection, Debt, Incal, Van Zandt

15 November 2021

  • Hell of a Book by Jason Mott. Great story of a writer struggling with the terrible events in his life, and the terrible toll racism has on all.
  • Escape from Rome by Walter Scheidel. Quite the slog but a compelling argument that the fall of Rome was essential for the creation of the competitve and progressive West. One wonders how this dynamic will play out over the coming century. One also wonders if this is an argument for devolving more rights and programs to the state and local level.
  • The Wilkes Insurrection by Robbie Bach. Really well paced and a couple of great characters. Very good first outing from Robbie.
  • Debt: The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber. The evolution of debt, markets, and money as seen by an anthropologist. Vlad and John turned me onto this, it is a bit wordy, but super interesting, a very different view from the conventional wisdom. I am still processing, it is very relevant to current discussions about student debt forgiveness and debt ceiling.
  • The Incal by Alejandro Jodorowsky, Mœbius. Highly rated graphic novel, not really my cup of tea. A bajillion creative concepts jammed willy nilly into one story, leaving little room for character or coherent plot.
  • Unrequited Infatuations by Stevie Van Zandt. What a life and what a character. Greatly appreciate his passion and commitment to art. Inspiring.

On Web3 and Mission

09 November 2021

I came of age and started my career in the early stages of the PC revolution. And my gosh was this exciting — the wresting of computer power away from controlled impersonal computer centers and delivery into the hands of free individuals. An explosion of creativity followed. It was thrilling. I went to work at Microsoft not because of the financial potential — I didn’t even know what a stock option was. I went to Microsoft because I had to be part of this revolution.

I felt this excitment again during the web revolution — letting anyone create a website and making it dramatically easier to reach audiences. The web was empowering and freeing. And then the mobile revolution — pushing computing off the desk and into the hands and pockets of people, freeing and empowering again.

The greatest technology revolutions all share this sense of freedom and empowerment. And during these times, mission-driven orgs pop into existence, and people commit to missions, creating career highlights.

There are smarter people than me who have articulated the problems with web3/crypto. Complexity, unnecessary technology, scams, criminality, etc.

But ignore all the problems for a moment. The web3 folks are articulating a vision of freedom and empowerment — freedom from giant corporate walled gardens of identity and content, freedom, to take your data anywhere. These are good things. I get why people are excited about freedom.

Is anyone else articulating a vision of freedom, empowerment, opportunity?

Meta is at least talking about the metaverse, but it is all locked up in Meta’s hands. But there might be something there.

What bright future are Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Apple talking about? They are are incrementalling their current tech, but what breakthrough are they driving in freedom and opportunity? No one gets excited about the 723rd AWS service, or Windows/Office/Teams version 27, or iOS version 19. Drudgery.

What are web3/crypto critics presenting as an alternative? It is not sufficient to say “web3/crypto sucks”.

Some of the smartest people I know are moving towards space startups, which has a great mission, but it doesn’t have the freedom and opportunity vibe.

We have to articulate an alternative vision that leads to more freedom and opportunity. Or people will continue to go down the web3 rabbithole.

Exploration, Web3 Skepticism, and other things

07 November 2021

Notes on Exploration

I keep trying to learn about web3 and crypto, some days I wonder why, and then I am reminded “…be careful about being too quick to filter out topics because you quickly judge them as boring. Don’t have a fixed mindset about it. There’s interesting stuff everywhere…

First explore, then exploit. I am definitely in exploration mode these days.

A good reminder to not limit exploration to current media, much of which will be forgotten, but to dive deep into writing from the past and material off the beaten path.

I am not sure what the Internet of Bio-Inspired Things or the Internet of Biological Things are, but I am intrigued.

Write more often, and write more succinctly. Good advice, writing is an integral part of exploring and learning.

I still haven’t found the best tool to document my explorations for myself and for sharing. I am using a rube goldberg arrangement of markdown editors, cloud storage, and github pages for publishing. Some more good ideas here about capturing hunches.

Web3 Skepticism

Delian Asparouh, a VC at Founder Fund, says it well: “a tragic misallocation of talent”. That is my general feel at the moment, web3 is to tech as the CDO spree of the 2000s was to finance.

Anil Dash makes the point that much of the existing web started out with a very open sharing model, but commercial entities drove it in a different direction for commercial reasons, and a bunch of new protocols and technologies won’t change the commercial motivations and behaviors. Web3, if it succeeds, will end up with a bunch of new dominant players (who may just be the old dominant players).

Seth Godin is pushing a DAO for voting in the broadest sense. There does seem to be something in the web3 idea of open and programmatic governance, tho the web3 adherents need to dramatically simplify the stack of concepts.

Random

So Microsoft is a metaverse company. I recall in the mid-90s when Microsoft started talking about the IAYF vision. In about 42 nanoseconds the word was coopted by everyone, the Microsoft corporate library announced an IAYF app internally which was just a vb frontend on some db. The grand vision became meaningless. If you are going to invest a lot of corporate energy into a word, you should probably make sure the word is distinctive and can be owned by your corporation.

Let the Market Worry for You — espouses the view that there are a ton of people thinking about risks, and that this is therefore all priced into equities, and therefore you shouldn’t let risk concerns keep you from participating in the market. An interesting view, tho largely formed during an era of sustained market growth.

I did not know that the Wizard of Oz may have been a comment on monetary policy.

Quitters get raises. Long known in the tech industry, interesting to see the broader data.

McDonald’s Theory. Great brainstorming hack.

Voting, Interactive Art, Web3, and other things this week

01 November 2021

Voting

November already! It’s voting season again, and a big thanks to the Washington State vote by mail system this week, it is really wonderful. Hard to understand why every state doesn’t learn from, it has certainly driven up my participation and engagement level. It’s no surprise Washington is in the top 5 states by participation rate — and I hope we learn from the top 4 and improve.

Interactive Art Installations

I took a spin thru software for interactive art installs this week. I used to do some large scale halloween decorating and used DMX control software at that time, software has improved a lot sicne then. I am particularly interested in video projection mapping, gosh there are a lof of nice choices. I could just roll something by hand but using one of these seems smart, they all seem to handle multiple projectors mapping onto arbitrary geometries:

  • madmapper. Lots of features, lots of guides, nice UI, seems to be reasonably active.
  • qlab. Looks very on point, nice iOS companion app
  • millumin. UI maybe not as slick, but still looks pretty complete
  • isadora. A little more techie maybe.
  • Touchdesigner. Seems to have a very strong pro community around it
  • resolume. Really nice VJ features
  • visution: UI not so polished but still looks complete

I intend to try a small experiment with one of these.

These additional projects may have promise but they seem limited in some substantial way

  • heavym. only supports 1 output at the moment.
  • mapmap. open source but abandoned.
  • lightform creator. cool but limited to their out of stock hardware.

Web3 this week

I largely stayed away from web3 this week, but I did read a few things. Haseeb is a bit more rational than some of the adherents — for example Why decentralization is a bit of a red herring. And then Packy McCormick on sc3nius, worth reading.

And then there is this primer on DAOs. I want to like DAOs, there is something interesting about software for new organizational models. But when you have to understand 87 new concepts and 123 projects to wrap your head around the simplest DAO – well, radical transparency loses its meaning when it is wrapped up in obtuse complexity.

Random

I’d like to build out an astrophotography pc and setup. tho living amidst the light pollution and mirk of seattle is not really conducive to great astrophotography.

And a macrophotography setup — adaptalux.

Tough tech investing landscape 2021 – kind of the antidote to web3.

Pixar rules for story telling.

May December collaboration – nice to see new artists embracing great work of the past, and older artists embracing the art of today. Enriching for all.

Leadership lessons, startup financing, and more Web3 thoughts this week

22 October 2021

Leadership Lessons

Every job has a signficant sales and marketing component. Engineering is no exception. You have to communicate what you are doing regularly and emphatically (and also listen to the response you get, and adapt accordingly).

Ryan Petersen of Flexport on the container issue – I love this guy. Not focused on blame or grand policy. Just digs in, identifies issues, and proposes an array of common sense and direct solutions. We need more of this kind of leadership.

Startup Financing

A standard approach to startup cap tables – seems useful and overdue. I spent so much time in excel as both an investor and then as a startup founder. Would be good to regularize this.

Great thread and data on startup exits. I’m surprised at the number of earnouts and I wonder if these are all really earnouts (certain business goals must be hit to get the comp) vs time vesting (employees must stay a certain length of time).

Web3 Gaming

I’ve been mostly looking at using web3 as a developer. I decided to try from a different direction and use web3 as a user. The top game seems to be the Axie Infinity game.

You need to jump quite a few hurdles to try out Axie Infinity.

  • First to the Axie Infinity site
  • Then download something called Mavis Hub. Why is this a different name? Anyway, downloaded.
  • Then log in with a Ronin Wallet (there are some other choices but this is recommended). Who or what makes Ronin Wallet? Don’t know.
  • Then led to the SkyMavis site, another organization. Starting to feel like this is part of the game.
  • Ronin wallet only runs in Chrome or Firefox, so get Chrome installed (thought all this web3 stuff was going to free us from the Man). Ronin wallet plug in installed.
  • Now get ETH in the ronin wallet. Off to the roninchain site (yet another organization) with several choices to buy assets with the Ramp Network, yet another branded service. 3 choices — WETH, AXS, or SLP. AXS seems right.
  • And whoa whoa whoa. Just to start playing, need 3 AXS and that is like $380 at today’s prices. $380 to play this game? For a pokemon like-game? Are they naked or something?

First observation — such a jumble of brands and organizations. The general web3 approach of “we will replace monolithic commerical offerings with a mishmash of micro offerings from orgs you have never heard of” doesn’t really fly.

Second, the cost to play is ridiculous. No thanks, I am not putting $380 into this. A smart observer compared it to a pyramid scheme, and later arrivers like me have to dump a lot of cash in to support the earlier adopters.

There are easier and cheaper ways to have fun or to speculate.

I get that new platforms might be cruftier and clumsier than the mature solutions of the preceding generation but there has to be something positive about web3.

Web3, Crypto, and other random things this week

20 October 2021

web3, crypto this week

Kept on trying to learn about web3 this week,taking a random walk thru services. dfinity.org is complicated to grok, the “hello world” app for a hosted app is a little byzantine. fleek.co was a little easier to use tho i seem to have lost my app. I am still trying to understand what ipfs is good for. polkadot and substrate seem like ingredients, not solutions. Everyone introduces a bunch of new unique terminology, I am awash in concepts.

I am bullish on the idea that there is some application use for web3 infrastructure, tho nothing I am finding is really compelling yet, and the complexity of using them is orders of magnitude too high. The cost to use any of these services is a complicated mystery; there is a lot of value in a publicly maintained, clear price list for services as is provided by AWS or Azure or GCS — I can have a “hello world” lambda up and running in minutes with a very clear cost expectation and a lot of cost and scale controls.

It would be great if someone made it trivially easy to move s3 storage to ipfs, and demonstrated exactly how that would be substantially cheaper. Cloudflare is attempting to move s3 usage to r2 — full s3 compatibility at a much lower cost – they are making it trivial to understand – I get that. If some IPFS offering would do the same, I would get that.

One thing I am quite sure about — the “Goodbye AWS!” sentiment on various web3 sites — how running an app on the blockchain will free apps from the tyranny of AWS (and Azure and Google…) — this is false. The blockchain operates on hardware that some organization is hosting and operating. There will be organizations that are better at operating hardware at scale, and they will aggregate up a bunch of blockchain processing traffic and then they will have the new Amazon (which might be the same as the old Amazon). This is just the nature of industries, every industry since the beginning of time has behaved this way – “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss”. I suspect a lot of vendors and investors understand this dynamic very well and are being disingenuous.

I also keep reading “crypto currency is different, we need a different regulatory regime.” Regulatory structures are in place, in part, to moderate the behaviour of the powerful and to protect the individual investors (and yes are abused by established players to achieve regulatory capture, but that is not a reason to drop them). When I hear a new entrant claiming we need a whole new regulatory regime, they are either naive about how this will play out — or they are disingenuous, they want to be a dominant player in the new regime and capture outsize rewards. THey are not acting on the behalf of the individual investor.

A variant of this is “The SEC’s posture towards crypto in the US is definitely hurting innovation”. Well yes it may be slowing innovation and this seems like a feature, not a bug. Maintaining a market that protects small investors and encourages them to participate in the market is a very good thing. Financial “innovators” often do not protect small investors.

The burden is on the crytpocurrency innovators to fully embrace the protections provided by the SEC and demonstrate how they can operate within those strictures.

Random

I’m a sucker for shaders.

I need a Mini hologram portal.

Dave Winer continues to innovate and build. Inspiring.

Nature conservancy 2021 photo winners – the cenote one is awesome.

Kintsugi is beautiful.

Noah smith explains the risks of subsidies for expensive services

Mortgage debt service at all time low. Stunning.

Recent Books -- The Weak Spot, Dance of Molecules, Cloud Cuckoo Land, Dirty Work

17 October 2021

  • The Weak Spot by Lucie Elven. Strange characters acting in strange ways. Hard for me to care about any of these people.
  • The Dance of Molecules by Ted Sargent. A little dated, but still good. Very nice language, better than most science books. I think Reardon recommended this one to me years ago, I should have read it then.
  • Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr. Sprawls over a huge swath fo history but ties it all together nicely. I was captivated. Deserving of the accolades it has been receiving.
  • Dirty Work by Eyal Press. Examines the unpleasant jobs we ask people to do in society, and how we ignore and turn our eyes away from these jobs and their consequences. Sobering.

Learnings -- WiFi, Tokens, Hype, Change

13 October 2021

The fallacy of mid-market network gear

We have always used “consumer grade” networking gear in our house. Cable modems off of Amazon, Eero wifi access points (and apple wifi access points before that). The Eeros have a great mobile app and have generally been easy to setup and largely bulletproof.

But I don’t love being the IT guy for the house. So against my better judgement, in our current house I was talked into mid-market “var friendly” devices — Araknis routers and Ruckus access points with professional install. It has not been very clean. These vendors have crap mobile apps and the gear isn’t designed for users to manage. Our installer is not able to debug as he is busy doing installs. There is no consumer support path.

Our WiFi networks kept dropping a couple times a day. We complained about and got no answers besides “have you tried rebooting”. So I wrote a python script to monitor our connection every 10 seconds, and discovered that our connections were dropping every 12 hours exactly. I put my macbook on the wired network and ran the same script, no drops. So it seemed access point specific.

After weeks of badgering my installer, I finally got login admin access to both the Araknis routers and the Ruckus access points. The Araknis system logs show no problems. The Ruckus access points all reported connectivity problems every 12 hours. Ding ding. Back to the Araknis UI, and guess what the DHCP lease length is set to? 12 hours. Ding ding ding. I set it to 72 hours and all has been relatively good since then.

There are so many problems here.

  • Our installer doesn’t have the time or depth to solve these problems.
  • The Ruckus and Araknis products don’t expose config tools to users.
  • The Araknis has a stupid 12 hour default for DHCP.
  • The Ruckus devices are stupidly on dynamic IPs by default, and all 3 of them try to do lease renewal at the exact same time.
  • Neither Araknis nor Ruckus have effective consumer support services.
  • The Ruckus issues with DHCP are clearly known in user forums, for some time, and Ruckus does nothing about.
  • All of this just creates pain for consumers and for our installer. If I was an installer I would dump all this crap and install consumer grade devices.

Almost all these problems go away with Eeros. I hear very good things about Unifi too tho their website reads like they are creeping into the mid-market which scares me.

I am probably never going to get to step out of the role of home IT guy. All I can do is buy products that automate a lot of the problems away or give me easy self service solutions.

What are tokens exactly?

When I am not in the router weeds, I am trying to keep up with the new hotness. This is a good explanation of cap tables for crypto companies.

Historically when an entity issues a financial instrument, it is backed by some guarantee of financial value. The government issues currency, backed by the taxing power of the government. Municipalities issue bonds, backed by their taxing power. Corporations issue bonds, backed by their ability to generate cash to cover the bonds. Companies issue equity, which is a claim on the cash flow and earnings of the company. Etc.

What exactly are tokens backed by? They aren’t a claim on the issuing company’s cash flow or equity. (And why not?) The company could create an arbitrary number of new distinct token offerings. A token is just a claim on the part of the token pool it is in, and there is no economic value associated with that, except for whatever the token holders decide, or what the tokens can be traded for. They seem pretty vacuous.

Maybe I am done with the tech industry for now

The tech industry has always had an affinity for hucksterism. FUD and vaporware were big deals when I started in the industry. (And it is not like the tech industry originated these practices – go read the history of Edison, or the various trading companies during the mercantile era. I am sure these practices span all of human commercial activity and will continue to do so.)

But you tire of it. And as I try to keep up with crypto and NFTs, I find myself more and more aligned with some of the harsh critics – NFT criticism by Dan Olson, more NFT criticism, crypto critic Stephen Diehl.

I could just sit back and be a critic. But maybe I should just be done with the tech industry for a while. I will always be an enthusiastic user of tech. But the industry machinations and hype cycle is just not fun or interesting right now.

But I don’t really want to quit understanding change

The day you quit embracing change and quit learning is the day you die, or at least that is what my grandfather said. Seth Godin on embracing change – “We can choose to live behind the curve or ahead of it.”

I have a slightly different formulation of this. Technology change, and change of any sort, is constantly sweeping through our society, largely uncontrolled by any of us, crashing like waves.

And the wave metaphor is good — you can deal with these waves in a couple ways. You can twist your feet into the sand, anchoring yourself, and try to fight off the waves. Or — you can grab a board and surf them.

Something big is changing in our society about employment. I don’t really understand it yet. I am listening and learning. When the generation before ours went to work, they dedicated themselves to a company for a lifetime, and the company dedicated itself to them. My generation still had a lot of that, tho 5-10 years at a job was considered an ok amount of time, and company pensions started to disappear. The commitment level on both sides has continued to drift down. It is going to be interesting to see how this evolves.

Random things bubbling up to the surface

I do love interactive art. I might play around with Isadora

Interactive fiction db and twinery tool. Interactive fiction games were part of my early intro to personal computing.

I was playing around the neopixel LED strips and posted a little code i wrote to control one via MQTT. Might be helpful to someone playing around with.

The yayagram — a physical device for interacting via Telegram.

National Book Award Finalists – always good choices

When I was a kid, we visited the cereal factories in Kellogg, Michigan. I love a good factory tour, but the smell of millions of pounds of grain cooking was enough to turn me off cereal for a long time. I can’t imagine working there.

I used to make my own tombstones for Halloween.

The time I met Steve Jobs

10 October 2021

Many people have told their Steve Jobs stories this year on the 10th anniversary of his passing. Mine is just a small story.

In about 1981, when I was a junior at The Ohio State University, I was trying to figure out what was next for me – job, graduate school, what kind of graduate school (business, EE). I was fortunate to have a good family friend, Jim Dutton, who was CEO of a startup, Caere Corporation, out in Los Gatos. He offered to host me on a tour of Silicon Valley to help me make up my mind. Just the opportunity to fly to California and to visit Silicon Valley seemed like an amazing adventure to me.

I flew out and stayed with Jim, Joan, and his family. I didn’t understand exactly how connected Jim was. Over the next 3 days I was able to visit a lot of companies, and I got the chance to talk personally with Gene Amdahl at Amdahl Corp, Bob Noyce at Intel, and Steve Jobs at Apple. They were all a little intimidating, but Steve especially so, he was intense and excited about his work. He was in his full beard days. He pressed me hard on why I was considering various paths.

I only realized later in life what a great gift this trip had been. I thanked Jim a lot at the time but probably didn’t thank him enough. And I never really appreciated the time that these people gave me until later. They took time out of their busy days to meet some nobody kid from Ohio, that was incredibly nice. I probably could have fought my way into a job at one of their companies at that time if I had been savvy enough, I might have missed a great adventure and a great financial windfall, but my career turned out ok.

Steve and these other leaders taught me that we always have the time to reach out and help people entering their careers, we always have the time to be helpful and gracious to young people. I try to live up to that.

Automakers and Semiconductors, Culture and Strategy, Web3, and other things I've been learning about this week

09 October 2021

Auto Makers Don’t Drive the Semiconductor Industry

Jalopnik has the automaker-sympathetic view of the chip shortage; contrast with Gelsinger’s advice to get moving to new chip technologies. As noted in Stratechery, “In the long run it is the car companies that will have to give in: there simply is no good economic reason for TSMC or anyone else to build new “old” fabs”. There is no fighting this wave.

In the early days of Hotmail (and other web properties), the team addressed scale and reliability by buying ever more expensive Sun servers that were “enterprise grade”, hardened, reliable. This approach to web scale reliability finally gave way to new system architectures built on replicated and distributed designs running on commodity hardware.

Some equivalent transformation is going to need to take place in auto systems design. It is inevitable that during the production and operating life of a car, the chips available at reasonable price and volume will change. How might this affect system design? Chips will have to be encapsulated in pluggable modules that are easily testable, easily changeable. It probably argues for consolidating chips into fewer places in the car, and increases the importance of software and hardware design for these systems.

Some automaker will figure this out (perhaps Tesla, Rivian, and others already have), and it will deliver them large economic and flexibility benefits.

Culture Eats Strategy For Breakfast

Good article in The Atlantic about how Boeing destroyed its engineering culture. Sam says this may be a maxim – “Every successful creative culture is eventually absorbed by bureaucrats” – call it McKelvie’s law.

I was fortunate to spend a lot of my career at Microsoft during a time when the management chain had developer background and fully supported developers. Not that this meant the company was some tech-mad customer-aloof circus – everyone was pretty focused on market success, and were able to think clearly and creatively about technology.

I Don’t Get Web3, But I Keep Trying

I spend a bit of every week trying to wrap my head around NFTs, Crypto, Web3. I totally get the desire to break content and services free from large corporate ownership. Services like Radicle and Gitcoin seem interesting maybe (although I can’t find anyone using radicle).

But then I read this twitter thread and this article by some very vocal proponents of web3. These are not stupid people, so I am trying to understand their views, but I struggle with their language.

For instance: “NFTs give users the ability to own objects, which can be art, photos, code, music, text, game objects, credentials, governance rights, access passes, and whatever else people dream up next.”

The NFT concept of ownership seems closest to the notion of owning a meal you purchased. No one else can own that instance, tho the restauranteur retains the right to create and sell infinitely more instances. My own purchased meal has utility to me, but over a long time I can’t really resell it or expect it to grow in value.

Or owning an NFT is like owning a copy of a music track. I get value out if owning the track copy, but no one is ever going to pay me much for my specific copy of “Custard Pie” by Led Zeppelin, and Led Zeppelin retains the rights to sell as many copies of this track as they can, or create new and different versions.

This is very different than owning a unique piece of art or owning all the rights to some piece of code or to some piece of music. Certainly someone could contractually commit to sell some deeper piece of ownership along with an NFT, but a token itself doesn’t magically solve this ownership issue, nor are tokens required to sell these rights.

Another instance: “Ethereum is a decentralized global computer that is owned and operated by its users. Blockchains are special computers that anyone can access but no one owns.”

The industry has a pretty good definition of what a “computer” is, and there is a giant economy of Intel instruction set and ARM instruction set computers and tools — chips, SOCs, cloud instances, vms, dev toolchains, management tools, virtualization tools, etc etc etc.

My puny brain has a hard time understanding how blockchain compares to what we normally call computers. If I want to write some program that does some arbitrary task, how do I host that on a blockchain? If a blockchain is just a special computer that can only do one special kind of task, how is that useful?

Or: “Ethereum is powered by a fungible token, ETH, which is used to incentivize the physical computers that underlie the system.”

How does a token power anything? Or incentivize physical computers? You can’t incentivize code or semiconductors.

Words and definitions matter. This breezy use of well understood terms does not help to build understanding. It damages the arguments of the web3 proponents as it seems like they are trying to purposefully obfuscate.

IOT and WIFI

Interesting that low cost wifi chipsets are emerging, putting wifi at/near zigbee/zwave power budgets, if I understand the specs. Suspect zigbee and zwave don’t survive this assault.

Random

Brandi Carlile’s cover of Madman Across the Water is awesome. Of course Brandi’s cover of almost anything would be awesome.

An argument agains the notion of general intelligence. Hear, hear. I’ve met a ton of smart people and they are all uniquely smart in different ways.

Recent Books -- Nagata, Four Lost Cities, Metamaterials, World Gives Way

03 October 2021

  • Edges and Silver by Linda Nagata. Edges was a ton of fun, nice work blurring software and biology and physics, and a fun “Alien” kind of plot. Silver got a little too metaphysical for me and lost the plot and characters a little.
  • Four Lost Cities by Annalee Newitz. A lot of details about city life in early cities. I had trouble really getting the thesis of the book tho, I was lost in minutiae.
  • Waves in Metamaterials by Baszlo Solymar and Ekaterina Shamonina. Didn’t read thoroughly, didn’t really “resonate” with me (sorry).
  • The World Gives Way by Marissa Levien. Sometimes space adventures don’t end well, and humans have to cope with it.

Smart Home and IOT software development, automotive tech, and other random things I've been noodling on

01 October 2021

Building a smart home app

I’ve spent some time over the last 3 months trying to build a smart home app. I wanted to yoke together all the embedded technology in my home — lights, sensors, cameras, various controllers, etc — and do something entertaining and fun with them. Most smart home apps are booooring — no one really wants to be the operations manager for their house. I wanted to create something a lot more fun, using all the smart home gear, maybe something like an Escape Room kind of game. or Hide the Thimble.

I largely failed.

The smart home space is a confusing welter of devices, oses, physical networks, protocols, apis, apps, services, very few of which work together. Getting devices to talk to services, even from the same vendor, is arcane — don’t take only my word for it — Mat Velloso tried to do some simple home automation work and realized what a can of worms smart homes are. I have Google, Apple, Amazon, Lutron, Zigbee, Zwave, Philips, Samsung, and every other kind of device you can imagine. I have tried many ways to hook them all together, having the most success with Hubitat. I really wanted to create a programmable substrate that I could use for apps in the home.

I got to a limping instance of a game with some invaluable help from Sam and Vlad. But it all fell apart repeatedly. The devices are unreliable, sometimes responding, sometimes not. Networks and protocols are unreliable. The object models for devices are wildly inconsistent, even within a single brand. Heterogeneous networks are a mess of differing transaction models, discovery mechanisms, etc. The various packages and libraries to program against smart home devices are not well supported, many have been abandoned or are stale. Naming and discovery of devices is, well, not even primitive.

At this point, it is not worthwhile to keep on tinkering. I’ve dumped most my gear into a box and into storage. There is no viable targetable smart home market. The PC software market and the mobile software market exploded because a high volume of homogenous (interconnected) targetable devices existed. No such state exists in the smart home market.

Tools for IOT Development

I have also tried to move upstream a little and dig into the tools for IOT development. I haven’t really found what I want there either. I’d like to write an app that I can easily move across different IOT devices.

Platformio has some promise and they have a big VSCode plugin, they have certainly aggregated a lot of devices in their tools. But they don’t really solve my problems. Their tool early binds you to a specific hardware platform and libraries, this isn’t what I want. And I had hoped that a great VSCode plugin would be appealing, but the plugin feels pretty heavy – a bunch of decorations added to VSCode, a whole new hierarchy. And if you want to target RPIs, you have to run the whole dev environment on an RPI – yuck.

There are almost no RPI plugins for vscode which I find surprising. Raspberry Pi Sync is just some lipstick on rsync (tho the developer’s name is KingWampy, have to like that). There is no plugin for Balena tho Balena separately has a pretty nice onboarding experience in the browser which I will be digging into further.

Microsoft has a suite of extensions for AWS IOT but they don’t seem to be actively maintained.

Overall the tool situation is not great — which is another comment on the market; with no volume targettable hardware, there just is not much point to great tools.

Auto Software

I’ve previously written about the problems in auto software. Not shocked to see the chip industry is frustrated with the auto industry as well – “It just makes no economic or strategic sense,” said Gelsinger, who came to the auto show to convince carmakers they need to let go of the distant past. “Rather than spending billions on new ‘old’ fabs, let’s spend millions to help migrate designs to modern ones.”

Random

2021 Audobon Photography Awards

A nice examination of housing affordability. As nutballs as the housing market is, this analysis suggests it is sustainable.

Seth Godin on change and the status quo. I really like his thought exercise around milk or solar power – imagine that the new idea is the status quo, how would that change your view of the change?

A perfume truck. If trucks work great for food, why not other retail categories?

The future of big cities as predicted in 1922 — very prescient

The best software for every need — a good list to start from.

Making the workplace work for moms (and all parents and kids, which pretty much covers everyone)

World tour of mustards – I do like a good mustard.