Ideas #2

This is a continuation of my plan to come up with 10 new ideas/projects a day while I’m #funemployed (taking time to figure out what to do next after my Masters degree).

2.1) Cryptocurrency where POW = free computation.

Primecoin's is unique. It's where the proof of work is used to generate prime chains. It is really novel. Not only is the cryptocurrency then securing the network but ALSO adding scientific benefit by producing primechains. Could there perhaps be a cryptocurrency where the network of computers can be used towards a wider variety of scientific benefit, ie providing free computation?

2.2) Plastic cups that don’t tip.

This has been a pet peeve forever. Yoghurt cups where once you are done eating the delicious goodness, the cup tips when you put the spoon in. #firstworldproblems.

2.4) Always-on scrobbler/shazam.

I religiously use last.fm and want it to accurately reflect what I listen to each day, even when it is on the radio or TV. Would be cool to have a device that listens and records the songs you’ve heard during the day.

2.5) Digital, phone-based vouchers.

This stems from my irritation of giving money to beggars. I don’t do it anymore. I want to know the person is going to buy something useful. Would be great to be able to generate a voucher (possibly at USSD level for feature phones) so people can spend it at stores for bread. Bitcoin comes to mind here. Sean’s Outpost is doing something similar. I recall reading they were giving Bitcoin to the homeless, instead of cash. Also, just check how cool this thread is. Shows the power of Bitcoin. Instant cash transfer through Reddit to Sean’s Outpost!

2.6) Removing 3rd parties in transactions on the web with deterministic address generation in Bitcoin.

*Technical alert*

You can generate additional public keys in Bitcoin (according to the specs of the BIP 32 protocol) on behalf of other people, if you have their master public key. Think of it is this way. You can generate additional “safety deposit boxes” in this shared ledger that only a specific person can make keys to.

What this means, is that for sites like Min.io, you don’t really need a 3rd-party. The 3rd-party’s main job in this regard is keeping track of addresses (what unique address fits what you are selling). Electrum already has a form of deterministic address generation in it, and the WooCommerce Bitcoin plugin takes advantage of this. But the idea is pretty big. It could potentially disrupt even big incumbents such as Stripe. You won’t need them anymore (at least just for payment processing).

2.7) Friend of a friend chat app.

Many people meet new people through friends of friends. Make a chat app (using FB’s social graph) that pairs up friend of friend. The ‘game’ of the app would be to guess who is the mutual connection. This of course means asking question such as “where are you from?”, “where did you go to school”, etc. Questions that are perfect to quickly get to know someone new.

2.8) Real life Oculus Rift portals.

Make hardware 360 degree cameras (open source the design) and ask people to drop them anywhere on the planet. With the Oculus Rift, you could then “portal in”, in real-time to these locations all across the Earth and just have a look around. Could be awesome! The portals themselves don’t move. The visual are manipulated so that you can look as if you are there. This means more than one person can “portal in” to any location.

2.9) Augmented reality live shows.

Almost like this. Imagine people standing in a crowd and you can have extra, crazy visuals everywhere. With epic music!

2.10) AI-driven public spaces.

Public spaces that change according to various variables: how many people there are, what the sentiment of the day in the city is, what led to serendipitous encounters, etc. The “AI” then controls this public space to make it fit better to different scenarios.

—-

This was an interesting day. Dusted off some old ideas and mostly “big” ideas. I think I’m going to hit some “wall” and then a tipping point where new ideas will just start rolling in uncontrollably!

Previous posts:

Ideas #1

Ideas. #1

So, after reading James Altucher’s post on 'how to have great ideas', I thought it would be cool to think of 10 new ideas/projects each day, if I can. I gave in my masters thesis on Monday, so I’m officially #funemployed. I’m not quite sure what I want to do with my life next, so I’m taking some time off to think things through. This is going to a be a nice experiment. The ideas doesn’t necessarily have to be a new and innovative, just something I think would be cool to do (or to have).

1) Bitcoin exchange for Africa.

Africa is set to benefit a lot if it adopts Bitcoin, especially in terms of remittances. An exchange that can take this future market will be poised for success (focuses on African countries).

2) Enterprise social media backups.

I’ve often gotten requests from TwimeMachine users that are more related to enterprise level social media management. I think companies would find it useful to want backups of their social media history (Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc) and have it easily searchable. Should just be a “turnkey” solution.

3) Better education about nutrition.

I recently discovered that sugar does NOT in fact make kids hyper. Years of being taught old wives tales. There must be an easier to easily get information about nutrition. ie, something like: scan ingredients, get brief overview of what the average effects will be (you’ll feel a bit drowsy, you’ll have to burn so much calories). Don’t know enough about nutrition to know if this even possible to distill it in this fashion.

4) Watch that has programmable vibration.

I want a watch that I can connect to my smartphone and then be able to program discreet vibrations (depending on app and message). Allows me to not have to check my phone each time it does something (could just be an app update notification).

5) Listenwithus.com summary emails.

I run http://listenwithus.com. Thinking of adding a feature where the most shared songs are emailed to users who opt-in so they don’t have to watch the hashtag the whole time.

6) Give Bitcoin away.

If I buy a lot of Bitcoin, and I give half of it away, will the interest I generate through it increase the price of Bitcoin in such a manner that the other half I own will eventually be more than if I just kept it all?

7) Silicon Cape/Stellenbosch tech media series.

Been thinking of doing a short 4-6 episode series, interviewing and showcasing the awesome tech companies in (mainly) Stellenbosch and then Cape Town. Sort of like Alexis Ohanian’s Small Empires. I’ve been wanting to get more into multimedia.

8) Shots of awe.

Speaking of media. I really dig Jason Silva’s ‘Shots of Awe’. Keen to make one. Would probably be about either Bitcoin or a general one on the amazing times we live in. You know. FUTURE.

9) Travel show where I only use Bitcoin.

More media. I enjoy lifeonbitcoin. But now. Pick businesses on Bitcoin.travel or coinmap.org. Travel to them. Promote Bitcoin. Make series of it.

10) Phone-based classifieds.

Haven’t done any research on this, so it could exist already. Take a photo of something you want to sell, set price, and then it is immediately on a classifieds site. When meeting in person, pay with Bitcoin (as it is easy mobile-based payments). 

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Having fun with this! I’ll probably continue with this until I leave for holiday on the 16th of September for 2 weeks. Will probably pick it up after that.

'Stickers' and rage faces.

I’ve been quite surprised at the rise of stickers. Every phone-based social network seem to be rolling them out. WeChat, Kik and even Path.

My first reaction to this is: Really? It’s not that I think stickers can help in communication, it’s just that it feels like we can, and should be able to convey what they imply through more innovative means.

I understand why they work. If you’ve been on 9Gag or Reddit, you’ll know a host of ragefaces. They sum up responses and feelings really well. Their meaning has also been established as a meme, and you can now use them without even using the picture. Here’s how I’ve seen people use it. They simply ‘reference’ the meme.

close_enough.jpg

or

y_u_no.jpg

or

foreveralone.jpg

You know exactly how they look, you know exactly what message it conveys, and it works. And it often explains feelings/messages better than any text would.

On a phone, typing out long pieces of text is still cumbersome, and probably will be for the foreseeable future. Sometimes, a picture just sums up what you want to convey: It’s quicker and it conveys visual meaning.

For ages I’ve used the “:P” smiley to convey my light-hearted tone in texts. I’ve tried to unlearn it and rather just meet the people in person, and have a chat that way. Body language is still king in communication.

Stickers fit this ‘gap’ in mobile communication. It is emoticons on steroids. And of course, the social networks love it, because they can monetize some part of the communication.

But. Although it provides more tools to convey meaning, it still feels like a contrived manner in which to communicate. It feels like a local optimization to a problem, while there exists a higher peak.

And I think an app like SnapChat is going in the right direction. What better way to communicate than to just show someone how you feel? It doesn’t however cover all the use cases. You don’t ALWAYS want to communicate with pictures.

And this is where referencing rage faces comes in. I think there’s a clue here somewhere. Something like trying to effortlessly increase a text’s capability with meaning by imbuing it with visual connotations.

Thinking off the cuff here. What about if you say: “I’m sad”. Swipe right, and it shows you photos of sad faces (yours, or other (zeitgeist-ish)). Or if you say: “It’s sunny today.” Swipe right, and you have photos of sunny weather. Or if you say: “I can’t believe you did this!” Swipe right and show pictures of despondent people.

What are your thoughts on stickers? Can we make something better?

Where’s my daily condensed/editorialized digital news?

There’s an interesting discussion happening on Fred Wilson’s blog about the choice between physical and digital news (including comments from Seth Godin and Jeff Jarvis).

(pic by Jack Cheng)

It rekindled my thoughts around news and the race between digital and physical. I’m probably one of the few people of the ‘new, connected’ generation that actually still enjoy reading newspapers. My parents still buy “Die Burger” (daily Afrikaans newspapers) and “Die Rapport” + “Sunday Times” on Sundays (weekly newspapers).

I enjoy reading it either in the morning or night (usually when there’s no company around the table). Would I buy ‘Die Burger’? Nope. But I still enjoy it for what it is. Catering news to a specific market. However, what I like most about newspapers is that the content is ‘done’, when it is ‘done’. That’s what physical newspapers still provide. There’s no expectation or the possibility of extra content. When we are subjected to a constant fire-hose of information, where there will ALWAYS be more information, it makes people anxious.

That’s why I don’t frequent newspaper’s digital sites. It’s “always-on” news, and you don’t always want ‘always-on’ news. There are news that can wait a day, or 2, or 3. Important “emergency” news will find it’s way through Twitter, Facebook, G+, etc. But most news just aren’t ‘emergency’ news.

Here’s a correlation to this published by Fastcolabs. They coined it: “slow live blogging”.

Here’s what we learned about long form stories—and why quality, not velocity, is the future of online news.

Physical newspapers to my mind have 3 features that make it different than other forms of news consumption:

1) Finite.

Like I mentioned previously. It’s done when it is done. Jack Cheng sums it up well in his blog post about the "Slow Web Movement". Timely vs Real-time.

Real-time interactions happen as they happen. Timely ones, on the other hand, happen as you need them to happen. Some real-time interactions, like breaking news about an earthquake, can be timely. But not all timely interactions are real-time. I’d argue that most are not. And where the Fast Web is built around real-timedness, the Slow Web is built around timeliness.

A great example of a Slow Web product is Instapaper. Instapaper takes the process of discovering a long article and reading it on the spot (real-time) and breaks it apart, deferring the act of reading until later, when we have an extended moment to read (timely). I may be stretching my analogy a bit here, but it’s kind of like boxing up a meal and putting it away in the fridge for when you’re hungry, except in this case, it doesn’t lose as much of its taste.

2) Niche market.

I say this in terms of news. There’s layers of news, and it filters down and down and down, to eventual hyperlocal news. For any type of product, knowing the market means much better content, instead of going for a “shotgun” approach. It feels like newspaper companies, in fear of digital, tries to do a shotgun approach, trying to ‘connect’ news to events that are only vaguely related to their market. 

Sean Parker, in his post lambasting the media for his wedding coverage, says:

A kind of mob mentality reigns supreme in the unrestricted, uncivilized world of social media: whether it is found on Facebook, on Twitter, in blogs, or even in the remnants of traditional journalism, where the old guard is now forced to compete with the instantaneous news cycle of the “real-time web” and the blogosphere. The economics of this new media have, in so many ways, rendered obsolete the economics of the old journalism and the value system that went along with it. The ethics of journalism, a commitment to objectivity, accuracy, and civility, formed a kind of loose social contract between the creators and consumers of news.

Read the whole last section. Poignant stuff. The result is poor news. It’s like news “inflation”. Everyone’s losing, but everyone has to play this game. To compare, it’s like the classic case of competitors racing themselves to zero margins, because they think they can only compete on price. Niche news is valuable because 1) larger news players don’t provide it, 2) it doesn’t have to be “always-on” and 3) it benefits from shared culture.

3) Shared culture.

To continue with the idea of a niche market. Newspapers were cornerstones of shared culture. That’s how information propagated. If you read the local daily news, you’d know that most people would’ve read it, and thus that becomes part of the zeitgeist. With ultra-recommendations, we start to live in bubbles of information. That is going missing.

I say there’s a need for carefully curated, finite news that caters to niche markets. Be like “The Magazine”.

The Magazine publishes five medium-length articles every two weeks on a wide variety of subjects of interest to curious people.

Keen to hear your thoughts. If you have stopped buying local newspapers, why? Would you pay for finite, digitally delivered news? Keen to hear your thoughts!

Bitcoin is not just a state-less currency, it’s also a reality-less currency.

One of Bitcoin’s unique features is that value can be moved around in a much more liquid fashion than any previous forms of money. Anything that can be touched digitally can touch upon Bitcoin.

Bitcoin is the first truly decentralized form of money. No one controls it. This possibility is exciting. It’s a state-less currency. We are seeing the ramifications of this already (people being paid with Bitcoin in jobs where what you create is not bound to the idea of a state: such as digital freelance work). The idea of a state-less currency means any nation’s currency will contend with Bitcoin. There will be countless ins and outs into the currency. I’m not sure yet whether it will happen, but it seems possible that Bitcoin will become the reserve currency of the world, rather than another nation’s currency (such is the case now with the USD). The problem with having another nation’s currency as the reserve currency is the political implications (and trust).

An example of this is the BRICS recent decision to increase trade in their own currencies rather than rely on the USD. Even if a country despises the US, the USD is still regarded as the ‘reserve currency’ and other countries reluctantly have to deal with it, because that’s where trust and value lies. But, if there is a neutral currency, then trust will gravitate towards it over time as distrust breaks down relationships between nation-type currencies.

Now, what I actually want to say. If you look at Bitcoin simply as an equivalent to a real world currency, the in and outs into it will be nation’s currencies. However, as I mentioned, Bitcoin is digital. Anything that is digital will and can affect it’s value.

This means Bitcoin is also reality-less (for lack of a better term) currency. And easily so. Virtual economies have always been valuable, but its always been restrictive in terms of money flowing into and out of it. You have your traditional MMOs where ‘black market’ trading of Gold and items exist (such as in WoW), and then you have your more open MMOs like Second Life and Entropia Universe where trading money into the world is accepted. 

image

Famously, a $635,000 island was sold in Entropia.

However, as I stated, liquidity is hampered like any current traditional exchange. With Bitcoin, there’s no reason why any virtual items and goods can sold in the game for Bitcoin and use the Bitcoin protocol immediately. So, now you can see that not only will nation-currencies contend with Bitcoin, but virtual currencies as well. And it can more easily exist without having to even need a separate currency (such as is the case with current MMOs).

So, just imagine. You walk into your local pub and pay with Bitcoin. Have a few drinks with your buddies. You get back home and play an MMO and with that same Bitcoin, you buy virtual items. All the transactions go through the Bitcoin protocol (you don’t have to use the protocol. You can keep it off-chain). The items sold in the game are immediately deposited into your wallet. It’s seamless like you’ve never seen it before.

There are examples surfacing of this:

Dragon’s Roulette. MMO casino powered with Bitcoin.

Bitstrat (in early beta). Wager on skill-based games.

(I recall seeing another one where the in world game uses Bitcoin as currency, but can’t find it now. If you know, link it please).

I do want to see a fully fledged game that focuses on Bitcoin as currency and uses it’s strengths in such a game.

So yeah. It’s not farfetched to imagine virtual worlds also contending along with nation-currencies with Bitcoin. It’s exciting!

Information Overload, Narrative and Life.

Earlier this year, one of my best friends found himself in a bar, having a drink with another friend. A girl at the table next to them started chatting to him. Not only are they dating now, but one of her friends is dating another friend of mine. This seemingly coincidental event led to significant changes in people’s lives. What if they didn’t decide to venture out to that bar that night? Or simply sat further away? They wouldn’t have met.

These sort of accidental meetings happen every day, and has always happened. You meet people through hops and acquaintances. My first serious girlfriend, for example, I met because of a series of events: 1) failing to qualify for a play, 2) getting a role in another play, 3) meeting the director’s sister, 4) who lived with my ex.

Each day is riddled with potential exciting new people you can meet. Avenues that are long and wide, that is simply a proverbial “small door” away.

But today. In our current age, it just becomes worse. Opportunities to connect to people have exploded. I’ve met the most amazing people through Twitter. I’ve seen amazing photos of strangers on Instagram. I’ve connected with like-minded musicians on SoundCloud. The list goes on. It’s exciting!

And then I think. Man. I might each moment be missing out on experiences that define people’s lives. Rian (@rianvdm), recently linked a post by Scott Berkun about information overload. It struck me, that my feelings toward information ‘overload’ isn’t necessarily about an increase the amount of information, but more that increased connectedness brings about too many opportunities that are within reach.

We do heuristically filter information. That I’ve gathered from my Masters research into information overload. Our brains are effective at managing too much information, even when faced with the so-called ‘information explosion’.

But, what we miss, is the opportunity to experience. Our opportunity costs to do anything in an increasingly connected world becomes higher and higher. For example, a second difference on Omegle can mean the difference of entirely different lives! That’s exciting and depressing at the same time. When I told Rian that, he sent me a link to a post by Linda Holmes, and it sums it up quite well:

That’s the moment you realize you’re separated from so much. That’s your moment of understanding that you’ll miss most of the music and the dancing and the art and the books and the films that there have ever been and ever will be, and right now, there’s something being performed somewhere in the world that you’re not seeing that you would love.

And, that’s life, I guess. Just like my friend who met the girl he is dating now in a random moment, we can curate our lives with people we want to, on the internet. We can connect to so maaany opportunities!

—-

As I near the end of my Masters (less than a month left), I’m faced with certain decisions about what to do next. When accidental moments can mean so much, taking much larger life decisions suddenly feel scary. I will take them. I’m not afraid of that. I know what I will decide I will enjoy. That’s who I am. I make the most of where I am. I enjoy learning. I enjoy people, and their stories. But there’s always a small feeling that your life could’ve been vastly different. And with that in mind, I have to decide where I want to steer my life next.

To make that decision, I started to think about what narrative will mean the most to me at this stage in my life. There are several options that seem interesting. Without divulging too much, they seem to be split up between 1) South Africa, 2) Silicon Valley and 3) Travelling. All 3 choices are “big”. They can set me on paths that can forever change my life. And frankly, I don’t know what to choose at this stage. I keep changing my mind every day.

For now, I’ll just greet smiles and hopefully increase those happy accidental moments. :)

P.S. I do realise that this is probably very normal to feel at this stage in one’s life. C’est la vie.

A Primer on Primecoin

(image from Bitcoinmagazine)

No. This is not really a full primer on Primecoin. I still have yet to completely understand the dynamics of it. I just wanted to use that title.

The cryptocurrency field is becoming really interesting. Although Litecoin is the second largest one, I always thought PPCoin was the most innovative one. It had 2 things that stood out from Bitcoin, proof-of-stake (vs proof-of-work) to generate consensus, and its minting process was more akin to gold. The higher the difficulty the fewer coins are being generated. It it thus naturally inflationary in the beginning, but over time decreases until very few coins are being generated per block.

The same creator, Sunny King, recently introduced Primecoin, a new altcoin. It once again shows the genius behind the concept of cryptocurrencies. One of the critiques of Bitcoin is that all the mining and electricity expenditure to perform the proof-of-work (which is essentially just brute-forcing random numbers) goes to waste. The actual verification of the blockchain is quick.

Primecoin introduces a new idea. The proof-of-work is done through the generation of primes. So although it is still more resource heavy than proof-of-stake altcoins, it is going towards a collective benefit. The resources are anyway being spent for nothing, so why not spend it on something useful? Luis von Ahn (creator or recaptcha and duolingo) will be proud. It’s realigning the incentives. Think SETI@Home meets Bitcoin.

I still have to read up more on how it works. With some initial reading, it seems it is generating prime chains. These chains are then used as a replacement for the hashes (as in the case of other altcoins). Bitcoinmagazine has a write-up of Primecoin’s inner workings.

What is amazing though, is the potential now exists for these proof-of-work mechanisms to be useful on its own. Bitcoin’s distributed network is the “largest” (note the quotation marks) supercomputer that exists in the world. We can now both run a math-based currency AND use it for the benefit of humanity.

It begs the question. What if we can realign the proof-of-work even further? What if anyone can use a supercomputer to do some number-crunching and then let it act as a proof-of-work? A free API to a supercomputer.

The cryptocurrency revolution is here and it is changing the world.

Thoughts on Bitcoin and Tax.

One of the more interesting thought experiments around Bitcoin is related to the idea of tax. How do you reconcile a cash-based internet currency with tax in a nation state? Is tax an old idea? How can you tax something if you can’t track it? 

There are a lot really Bitcoin enthusiasts that insist that tax is immoral. It is being forced on people. And that tax is the only reason why any governmental money succeeds: you must earn USD, because you must pay tax in it.

Let’s first look at this perspective. Let’s assume we still want tax in a nation. The benefit of providing social good through taxation in a fair and equal society means cheap healthcare, policing, education, upkeep, etc.

If someone chooses to earn their keep in Bitcoin because of it’s ease of use (freelance jobs through the internet for example), and you still want to contribute to the society you benefit from, how would you pay taxes?

There are 2 ways I see it. You can classify it as assets, which you then have to declare. Selling those assets for fiat, means you then pay capital gains tax. The problem with approach however, is that Bitcoin is a very liquid asset. To declare that I received 0.001 Bitcoin is unfeasible and pointless.

The other way is when you convert it to fiat, you declare it as income (or foreign income). And then get taxed according to income brackets. This is easier for the individual, but the problem with this is, you can function start functioning in a society without having to cash out. There are pubs, sites, grocery stores, etc starting to accept Bitcoin. See the upcoming crowdfunded documentary, Life on Bitcoin.

With the second idea, you could simply monthly declare the Bitcoin at the current exchange rates as income. The government would then still insist on the taxes for that income. You are then REQUIRED to convert the specific amount to fiat and pay the government. Are there any other ways? What do you think?

For the 2nd though experiment, it goes a bit into tin-foil hat territory. Do we still need tax? I’m asking this question not because I think we do not need tax, but rather I think it’s an important question to ask. Technology like Bitcoin forces us to contemplate it at least.

An interesting perspective to this (through discussion on Twitter with Len v. Heerden). A government has nothing do with Bitcoin. They provide no benefit to the functioning of it. Thus, why do we need to give the government value when I earned Bitcoin without the use of my government? If I was being paid in Rand, then sure. They provide the facility of currency in the country. It’s an interesting point, because it sort of pits a nation’s currency against Bitcoin (or global currencies). The government must provide incentives to use Rand over Bitcoin, without trying to force its citizens to use it. They shouldn’t hyper-inflate it. They should create incentives for people to buy Rand, such as saying: if you want small business support we only pay you in Rand. A public park will only be built by paying the contractors in Rand. Tax then sort of becomes like the monthly fee to participate in the benefits that your nation provides. If your nation sucks, then you don’t have to pay it. It’s still a difficult viewpoint to process because public goods can’t so easily be separated.

From my perspective, I don’t see how we can provide benefits for the commons without some form of taxation. However, I do think there are some clues to how this could be feasible. Bitcoin is such an example. We THINK we need centralised creation of benefits, but as can be seen with a well-thought out system like Bitcoin, we don’t. Are there incentives, technologies, machines and systems we can design to benefit humanity without the need for money to siphon to the top and back down again?

For example, what if there is a way to incentivize people to perform policing duties? Conducting acts of good and lawful protection of citizens, and you will be rewarded. The acts of good and lawfulness are mathematically enforced by some protocol? Spitballing here. There are gaps in this argument.

What if we could utilize the latent knowledge in a community, and have people teach one another instead of relying on the idea of a school? Is it possible to induce equality in a decentralized system like this? Will equality even be an issue?

Decentralized systems have always failed because we lacked ways to police it. And Bitcoin has in a way solved that philosophical problem. Can variations of it be used in other forms?

All these are interesting questions! What are your thoughts?

Excuse me of I might have gone a bit too tin-foil here. I don’t usually like ascribing to extreme view points, but it is more for a thought experiment than anything else.