Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thankful For... Life.

Several months ago April and I took part in a rescue effort that wound up saving a young woman's life. It was one of the most remarkable experiences either one of us has ever had. It showed us how fragile life is. It showed us how there is "something else" (whether you choose religion, or some other form of energetic/spiritual connectedness) that can bring disparate humans together to accomplish something in an intense life or death situation. It reinforced in us that people are good.

She was dead. I saw death in her black eyes. I stared at it as I breathed into her. The abyss of it looked back at me; darkness somehow showing me what wasn't there at all; life. I saw it when we pulled her from the water, and I saw it each time I pinched her nose and moved to her mouth to push air in. I don't know why I didn't close her eyelids. It just let it keep looking at me; perhaps to challenge it, so it could bare witness to all the life and energy that was going into her. After several minutes, her struggled breath came. A few minutes later the EMTs arrived and took over for us.

We went to bed that night assuming the worst; that she had died. There was just no way she could have survived the situation (at least 12 minutes, and more like 15, without air, complete with severe blunt head trauma). The next morning, the Sheriff called, but instead of the words "I'm sorry" he told me she was off of the machines and responsive. I couldn't believe it. None of us could.

Months later her family, friends, and the rescuers gathered in the mountains so everyone could meet. She had just completed the last waves of therapy, and was getting back to life as she knew it before the incident. She was _alive_ and thriving. Against all odds. The accident killed her, and the odds of her coming back were just non-existent. But, it happened. We witnessed it.

I got to hold her face and stare into her eyes. The life inside poured out. It was like death hadn't ever been there at all. It was beautiful.

I am thankful she is alive. I am thankful she is surrounded by so much love. I am thankful to be alive. I am thankful to be surrounded by so much love.

I am thankful she doesn't remember the experience.

I am thankful to have been part of a spontaneous collection of heroic humans. Without the collective effort, she wouldn't have had a chance. The above is a but a fragment of my own experience, and just a sliver of the overall effort.

Arrival & Linguistic Relativity

The movie "Arrival" explores a concept I've loved since my first trip to Europe as a young man; Linguistic Relativity. Immediately the new world I dropped into felt different in ways I couldn't explain. Sure things were "different." Architecture, the "age" of cities, city layout, transportation, food, etc. But, I was convinced there was something else going on. The underlying human interactions were just "different." Something inside me told me it was related to the language being used to communicate.

There's a name for what I was feeling; "linguistic relatively" explores how our mind's fundamental experience and wiring is rooted in the language we know. This explains why fluently multi-lingual humans are just "different" than the rest of us. It explains how musicians are just "different" than the rest of us.

"Arrival" goes so far as to suggest that language can change our relationship with time itself. Such a cool idea!

I've been fortunate enough to spend time in a handful of Asian language rooted countries, as well as Latin based countries. The Asian languages (all rooted in ancient Chinese in one way or another), and therefore people/societies, are the most fascinating. When you talk to someone who primarily speaks/reads an Asian language, in-country, and ask them to translate something, you can see their brains trying to come up with an explanation and translation. Something that feels like it should be "easy," often just isn't. Sure, some nouns are easy: "car." But, much of the time the surrounding environment and context literally changes the words you'd use verbally or in writing. This experience doesn't hold as well if you're interacting with someone with Asian language roots in a non-Asian based society. For example, I've of course interacted with many of Asians here in the U.S., and you generally don't get a taste of this translation challenge unless you delve into it with them. I believe the reason for this is that they're outside of their native context, and their minds are working in overdrive to map to the "other" language (English in my case). Operationally they're trying their best to conform to the "other" language.

Some of my favorite interactions and music come from non-English native speakers who map their "other" language headspace into English. The mappings are often deeply impactful and non-conformist to how I, as an American-English speaker, hear/speak; often they're deeply profound. They can articulate things in ways the "other" native language speaker simply has never considered. Bjork comes to mind.

"She uses English like a weapon."

Thursday, October 6, 2016

A Few Months of Ad Blocking

Two friends each have competing ad blocking companies/products (Brave and Optimal) that I've been trying out for a few months now. Detailed reactions below, but let me start by saying how much faster the web is without extraneous connections/bandwidth being gobbled up by advertisements; each solution provides a 100x better browsing experience based on performance alone. Nearly 50% of mobile bandwidth is used by moving advertisement bits across the wire. That's not only costly from a monthly data-plan bill standpoint, but it also illustrates the size of the stake mobile carriers have in the game; without ads, they'd lose 50% of their data-plan revenue! So, if either solution takes hold, rest assured the mobile carriers will push anti-ad-block legislation (legal or commercial lobbying) hard. If you flip that model in its head, you can quickly argue that the ad-industry is heavily subsidizing our data-plan costs with our mobile carriers.

I haven't decided which approach is better yet; Brave's browser/client-side approach, or Optimal's DNS-level approach, but both are working great. Each has their bugs/issues, but it's a joy, for the most part, to surf/navigate/read/transact sans advertisements online.

If you're a publisher reading this and are upset that you haven't gotten ad-dollars from me, send me an email and I'll bitcoin you what you'd likely received had I surfed you with ads.


Brave is well, a brave approach as it requires the user to download/install/use a new client/browser. They have support for OSX/iOS/Android, so the platforms that matter are covered which is good. Brave is also attacking the end-user privacy front which is nice. They give you all the privacy/security controls/tech that you'd want as a user. They also provide probably the most important part of this ad-blocking puzzle to me, and that is the ability to pay publishers I choose based on my consumption. This was likely largely motivated by the publisher cries over ad-blockers adversely impacting their revenue, but more interestingly, to me, is that I get to decide how much I want to pay for content, and guess what, it's a heck of a lot more than the crappy ad-industry pays on a per-user basis, so, if I were a model for most consumers (and I admit I'm not unfortunately), publishers would actually make out better.

Brave's challenge is that it's a separate browser. Which plugins/extensions work and which don't? Does this website work in Chrome? etc etc. Getting consumers to switch browsers is super hard.


Optimal chooses to do all of its blocking at the DNS level. This requires an app-install on mobile, or DNS address swapping by hand on OSX. What's nice about this approach is that ads are blocked across all applications/browsers on the system (mobile or otherwise). Downsides here though are that if  you're already using custom DNS (e.g. openDNS) for things like content blocking for kiddos, you have to pick one or the other. Optimal is still sorting out how to backfill lost ad-revenue to publishers, but, there are frameworks to accomplish this that they'll sort out in time I believe.

Optimal's challenge is in getting an alternative publisher payment model in place, and one that lets me, the user, decide who gets my dollars. Also, a DNS approach can ultimately be circumvented by the industry by pushing ad distribution out to the app-level/root-level top-level domain and subdomains of the apps/websites I'm visiting.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Can You Put a Price On Data?

Here's another Dee Hock transcription from The Birth of the Chaordic Age. He does an impeccable job describing the material surrounding so many sleepless nights while we were building Gnip (and while our partners were trying to understand their value propositions as well).

If you're building a company that sells data, or its surrounding services... read on.

In the end, Gnip profited primarily from its services, and the "publishers" of data (e.g. the social networks) ascribed value to the "data" itself (and priced accordingly). We did share in some of that value, but it was a relatively small percentage of our revenue.

Any emphasis is mine.

Old Monkey Mind and I had spent countless hours trying to understand information and its relevance to organizations, asking our endless questions. What is the significance of the “inform” part of the word “information? What is the nature of that which is received from eternal sources and “forms us” within? What is the nature of that which forms within us which we then feel compelled to transmit, and how does it form others when it is received? What allows formation of information, permits it to endure unaltered, yet be available at any time for transformation in infinite ways? Why and from where came the universal, perpetual urge to receive and transmit information - the incessant desire to communicate? Is it an urge at all, or is it an unavoidable necessity - an integral component essential to life? Indeed, is it the essence of life itself? Or is it a principle beyond life itself? Could it be the fundamental, formative essence that gives shape and distinction to all things - part of an inseparably whole universe?

It helps to think what information is not. Certainly it is not just another “thing”; on more finite, physical entity. Certainly, information is far moe than digits and data. They may be components of it - the shape it sometimes takes. They may be of it, but they are not it. In a rare insight, Gregory Bateson proposed that “information is a difference that makes a difference.” If something is received that cannot be differentiated or, if once differentiated, makes no difference, he asserts it is just noise.

Bateson’s perspective is fascinating but limited, for it implies only mind-to-mind communication. If you are hiking alone in the wilderness and a rock comes bounding down the mountain, breaking your leg, that is certainly a difference that makes an enormous difference. The same can be said o running barefoot through the house and breaking a toe on a chair leg. Is that information? Both are certainly a difference that makes a difference. Both certainly convey meaning. If your broken leg and crushed toe are a difference that makes a difference, then, by Bateson’s definition, condensed, inanimate matter and gravitational force clearly have the ability to communicate. Locked in our box of self-awareness, we think of it as one-way communication - rock to leg, or chair leg to toe, but we truly have no way of knowing what information , if any flows the opposite way. Unlike finite physical resources, information multiplies by transfer and is not depleted by use. Information transferred is not lost to the source, yet is a gain to the recipient. Information can be utilized by everyone without loss to anyone. As far as we know, the supply of information is infinite; therefore, it does not obey any of our concepts or laws of scarcity. It obeys only concepts and principles of infinite abundance, infinite utilization, infinite recombination. We have only dim perceptions of what those principles might be, or if they exist at all.

Projecting onto information our old notions of property, thus turning it into a method by which one person can extract wealth from another, neither reveals nor changes the extraordinary nature of information. It reveals only the limited nature of man and his reluctance to change internal modules of reality or external behavior.
Information is a miser of energy. It can endlessly replicate, move ubiquitously at the speed of light, and massively condense in minute space, all at minuscule expense of energy, in other words, cost. In countless ways, it is becoming a replacement for our present enormously wasteful use of matter. To the extent that we increase the value of the mental content of the composition of goods and services, we can reduce the value of the physical content. We can make them lighter, more durable, more recyclable, more versatile, and more transportable.

Information breeds. When one bit of information is combined with another, the result is new information. Information is boundary less. It cannot be contained. No matter what constraints we try to put on information, it will become the slave and property of no one. Efforts to make information conform to archaic notions of scarcity, ownership, and finite physical quantity - concepts that grew out of the agricultural and industrialized age - merely lock humanoid into old, mental boxes of constraint and exploitation.
Information is ethically neutral. Its immense power is as applicable to destructive, inequitable, violent ends as it is to constructive, equitable, peaceful ends. The history of modern sciences has been an effort to divorce the ethical dimensions of life from the physical to divorce subjective values from objective observations; to divorce spirituality from rationality. The effect has been deification of the rational, physical, objective perspective as ultimate truth, and demonization of the subjective, ethical, and spiritual perspective a superstition, delusion, and ignorance.

Products, services, and organizations in which the value of the mental content begins to dwarf the value of the physical content require wise people of deep understanding. To endlessly add to the quantity of mechanistic information, knowledge, and technology without similar evolution of values and wisdom is not only foolish, it is dangerous. To massively develop means and act in accordance with what those means permit without careful consideration of ends in the context of values is equally idiotic.

Thinking about a society based on information and one based on physicality requires radically different perspective and consciousness. However, we prefer too often to ignore the fundamental differences and carry over into the Chaordic Age of managing information, ideas and values, concepts, and assumptions that proved useful in the mechanized, Industrial Age of machine crafting, the age of managing things; concepts such as ownership finite supply, obsolescence, loss by conveyance, containment, scarcity, separability, quantifiable measurement, statistical economics, mathematical monetarism, hierarchal structuralism, and command-and-control management.

The birth of the Chaordic Age calls into question virtually every concepts of societal organization, management, and conduct on which we have come to rely. Clinging too rigorously to old concepts, dismissing new concepts too lightly, protecting old forms that resulting from those concepts too fiercely, imposing those rooms on a changing society too resolutely, are a certain path to failure. As Sir Francis Bacon put it precisely centuries ago, in admonishing those who apposed the mechanistic concepts of Newton and Descartes: “They that reverence too much the old times are but a scorn to the new.”

The new concepts Bacon so ably defended with that assertion are excruciatingly old today. They are concepts that we now reverence too much.