Skip to content

The Ultimate Geek Club

You aren’t a true tech geek until you’ve got an ACM membership.

Nothing convinces management like whipping out your membership card. Argumentum-ad-awesome is irrefutable.

In addition, you get access to 1,100 books and 3000 courses through the ACM’s subscription to Safari Books Online, Books 24×7, and Skillsoft, but we all know that you’re really in it for the communion of great computing minds. Don’t you deny it.

As a bonus, South African computing professionals even get fantastic discounts when joining up.

I’m a member. Are you?

Moving Data

Moving data into South Africa is expensive, but moving it around inside the country doesn’t have to be.

Freedom toasters are a great way to move data inside the country, but there aren’t enough of them to go around. This is probably because they cost about R 39 000 each.

One alternative is a cheap Network Attached Storage (NAS) device. It’s possible today to build a 1.5TB NAS for about R 2500. Fill them up, and connect them to the network at LAN parties, Internet cafes, University networks, wireless area networks, and wireless hot spots.

Another alternative is something I like to call Post Toasties. Have a website where you can request DVDs to be burned, and mailed to you.

Then there’s the BYOD (Bring Your Own Drive) option. Why bother with network storage units? Have people bring empty drives to be filled up. Make it available as a service at internet cafes that have a NAS.

Use the above strategies as delivery options for an open content downloading service. I’m talking about things like the TED talks, and video lectures from MIT, Berkeley, Stanford, and ArsDigita University. As an individual it’s simply too expensive to download these by myself.

The thing is, if you create new ways of moving data, soon people will start making data to move around. Won’t be long before we’d see locally produced vlogs and web series. If they get good enough, maybe they’ll get picked up by local broadcasters.

I want to see what happens when we put powerful content moving networks in the hands of ordinary people, and how it will blur the lines between professional and amateur. I don’t want to wait for Telkom and Neotel to liberate us. I want us to liberate ourselves.

Blorg Money

The Blorg are a bunch of exocortex wearing neohippie infoanarchist hackers who go around liberating information, and sampling all the nootropics in the world. Their motto is “Free love and information, dude.”

One fine day, you help one of them out a tight spot. “Thanks man. The collective owes you one. Any time you need a favor, ask any of us.”

You never see him again, but suddenly all of them recognize you and greet you by name. You’ve been added to their centralized face/gait/RFID/aura recognition system. It’s a bit creepy, but they seem harmless.

You ask one of them about the favor. “We use a type of mutual credit system to keep track of money and reputation”, she says.

You are not familiar with the concept. An androgynous person clears their throat and says: “It is similar to LETS. I do something for someone. They credit me. They now owe the collective, and the collective owes me. Since everybody either owes the collective, or the collective owes them, we pay off one another.”

You wonder how the collective can owe you if you’re not one of them. “System not closed… tribe-collective can… interact with the external system… does not have a zero-sum value… Torvalds or… Stallman… has great reputation… with tribe-collective…” a somewhat spaced out guy tells you.

You don’t really understand. A tall woman elaborates: “The tribe can take on jobs. This increases the tribe’s value in the external economic system. It also increases the value in the tribe of the members who do the work. When the tribe spends resources on a member, their reputation drops. They who contribute the most, have the most reputation. When someone externally does something of value for the tribe, they also gain reputation in the tribe. If someone like Torvalds joined, he’s be an instant tribal elder.”

You ask about tax. “Tax? What an antediluvian concept. We don’t do tax. How can you tax favors?” a teenage boy crows.

“You have asked many questions, and we have given many answers. We have repaid our debt.” a sober man tells you. The collective ignores you again. You feel a bit lonely. They’re an interesting bunch.

Maybe you can find another one who you can do a favor for…

NOTE: Mutual credit systems exist, though they usually stick to tracking just money. South Africa even has it’s own Community Exchange System.

A Rose Of Glass And Metal

I’m working late again tonight.

I have a hot date tomorrow evening, and I don’t want to leave the project unfinished. So instead of going home, I pop out quickly to buy an unhealthy dinner.

When I climb out of the car, a man approaches me.

“Would you like a flower?”, he says. He is holding out a bead and wire rose. I tell him no thanks.

“Would you buy me something to eat? I’ve had a tough day.” He has such tired eyes. I agree.

While we wait for the food, I ask him questions. His name is Samuel. He lives in town, and has to take a taxi out here every day. He knows about all the flea markets around, but he would have to pay for a table, and there’s too much competition. His brother taught him to make wire art, and it is hard. His fingers hurt from the effort of making them.

He shows me the things he has made. The long stemmed glass and metal roses, a tiny elephant, and the thing he is most proud of, “my little shoe”. The last one is his own design.

I wonder how I can help this man. I stare at the little shoe while trying to think of something. Supply and demand. Rarity makes something valuable. Discovering a niche. Anime figurines? Maybe a product with utility other than just aesthetic.

The food arrives, and I still have no words for him. No magical plan that will transform his business. He thanks me for the food, and bids me a good day. It’s been dark for an hour.

I feel helpless.

I don’t know how to help this man, or the other artists displaying their goods by the roadside. Everything has the same style, so we assume it comes from the same place.

The reason it all looks the same is because they learn from one another. The work has no voice, because it is the voice of them all.

I have no idea how to help this man and his brothers. I wish I did.

The Blorg

Most people know about network effects. You know, the value of a network (to its users) increases with the number of users on that network.

The same is true of information. Look at Wikipedia and Linux.

Millions of users added an article or two each to Wikipedia, and now everyone has a whole encyclopedia. (Actually, most of the users didn’t even submit complete articles. They just added fragments. It still works.)

With Linux, a thousand guys wrote a thousand small inter-operable programs, and we end up with a hundred prepackaged algorithmic ecologies (also known as distributions).

The difference between the network effect in communications networks, and the network effect in information goods is that when not limited by copyright, the value of information goods extends beyond the contributers.

Think about it. You have to join the telephone network for it to be valuable to you, but you don’t have to be a programmer to use Linux (though it helps).

The network becomes more valuable when the nodes are heterogeneous.

These ideas can translate to organizations. I say “organization” because it won’t work if it’s a company.

Companies exist to maximize profit, despite any negative consequences of doing so. Companies will want to lock information away, because it is more profitable (to the company) to create an artificial monopoly (on that information), even though it is less efficient from the market’s perspective.

So don’t make it a company. Make it into a loose group of individuals who collaborate to solve problems or complete projects as needed.

Let them discuss their projects and solutions publicly. This way information on techniques and solutions get documented, and the knowledge travels both within the organization, and outside it, building reputation for the solvers.

Reputation is always connected to a certain skill set. It makes sense that reputation for one skill won’t transfer to a skill in a completely different skill set. You can’t transfer reputation for cooking to reputation for programming. You could get partial transfer for programming in one language to another, because with experience, programming is a skill that becomes independent of the language used.

Have an online marketplace where tasks and projects can be auctioned off to be completed by the lowest bidder, while keeping the reputation of the bidder in mind to judge whether they have a suitable level of skill to complete any given task. (This includes bids by project organizers who then have to form a team.)

The essence of this concept is a fusion of two ideas: Bloggers and the Borg* combine to form the Blorg. The Blorg is a hive mob research organization, a tribe mind think tank, for solving problems and creating value.

Because of the nature of the organization, they would probably focus on cultivating exponential network effects. In other words, rather than solve single problems, they would attempt to solve that class of problems, in order that the problem need never be solved again.

*The Borg is an unrealistic construct specifically because they do not strive towards heterogeneous membership. Their specialization would breed weakness into the system.

Africa Is Big

Africa is larger than China, the USA, Western Europe, India, Argentina, and the British Isles… combined!

Source: White African Via Strange Maps Via Scarlett Lion Via Chris Blattman Via Lane Kenworthy Via Jeff Weintraub Via Norman Geras Via @Joburg

How To Solve The Housing Problem

Simply print them.

University of Southern California engineer Behrokh Khoshnevis and colleagues are developing a 3D printer for houses.

Source: Printable Housing (Via BoingBoing)

Education Meets Social Media - School of Everything

The School of Everything is a site that connects people who want to learn with people who want to teach.

It is one of those fantastic ideas that seems so obvious in retrospect that it’s hard to believe that nobody’s actually done it before.

You can get more details at the source.

Source: School of Everything: eBay for knowledge (Via BoingBoing)

Experimental Media

I like blogging, because it’s still so experimental. Internationally, they might be talking about traditional blogging, but in South Africa we probably don’t even have a thousand serious bloggers.

New media is so new here that we’re still experimenting with “traditional” new media. I want wilder experiments.

Take podcasts for example. Nic Haralambous has tried to make regular podcasts, but so far it has always failed. His conclusion is that regular podcasting doesn’t work, but doing it for special occasions does.

I think he misses the point. It didn’t work because the network infrastructure isn’t there to support it.

Take a hard look at average South Africans. They probably don’t even own a computer, much less have internet access. They might have a radio, or a TV if they’re lucky. About 10% of the most privileged South Africans have dial-up access. A very privileged 1% has broadband.

How do you make podcasting work in such an environment? I would mix up traditional and new media technologies.

It would be cool if radio stations put their shows online as podcasts. It would be even better if they would broadcast locally sourced podcasts. I want radio stations to produce blog posts, and have IRC chat rooms where you can interact with them in real time. Integrate them with wireless cellphone communities.

I don’t want to stop there. There’s all kind of technology mashups that I’d like to see.

I’d like to see video moved through unconventional channels. Do some video logging. Record Second Life events. Do video reports on local geek events or news.

Give DVDs away with newspapers. Distribute the results though the Johannesburg Area Wireless User’s Group. Put it on DVDs in video stores. Give it away at LAN parties, and 27Dinners. Put it on the sharing networks at universities. Make it available on freedom toasters.

As for getting technology in the homes of the average South African, the SABC wants to go all digital, so why not integrate decoders into OLPC style laptops? Broadcast useful educational info in digital format. Give it an hard drive so it can save the interesting bits. Sell simple plug & play wireless networking components so the boxes can be upgraded to plug into a neighborhood network, or the wider Internet. Get the post office to start selling email boxes.

My point is that although our internet infrastructure is deficient, there are other ways to move the data. I want to see people obliterating the digital divide while playing.

Satanism Lessons In Schools

An East Rand school made Satanism part of their life orientation classes. Parents fear a repeat of the Krugersdorp sword killing.

I didn’t write about the Krugersdorp killing, because I thought it obvious that Satanism, heavy metal, and drugs are just scapegoats. All that is misdirection.

My personal opinion is that the school is at fault, and that they are trying their best to shift the blame. They allowed bullying to get so bad that one unstable kid snapped. They also allowed a kid to enter the school grounds with three lethal weapons.

I don’t care whether they teach Satanism in schools or not. What makes me angry is that they are treating one religion differently. If you want to teach Satanism, then bring the other religions back to school. If you claim that you’re only teaching them about dangerous religions, then remember to include information about cults like Scientology, and information about faith healing caused deaths. Remember to teach them about persecution of and by religions. Then explain to them why freedom of religion is important.

I don’t believe in much, but I believe in impartiality.