When I was a boy, I recall my dad telling me of seeing an ad in the local newspaper classifieds section that simply said, “IT’S NOT TOO LATE! SEND $1 TO…” followed by a P.O. Box. There was no further identifying information, and no promise was made for any goods or services in return. The story goes that whoever placed the ad made a tidy sum. If this story is true, perhaps people who sent in their dollar were just idiots who expected to receive something exciting. But I’d actually prefer to think that most of them were people who decided to send some money out of amused gratitude for the entertainment they’d just enjoyed.
Money is a slippery thing. We take it for granted, like the air we breathe. Also, like air, we’d be pretty helpless without it. But what is money? Briefly, money is:
- A medium of exchange: You can buy things with it and sell things for it.
- A unit of account: You can divide it into smaller pieces (divisibility) and any unit of a currency is just the same as any other (fungibility).
- A store of value: It can be saved, stored, and retrieved, and still be usable with it’s value pretty much intact.
One of my favorite books, Your Money or Your Life, defines money very simply:
- Money is what you will trade your life energy for.
We get so much for free from the Internet these days that it’s almost as if we live two lives: the mundane life of working to earn a living and paying for the things we need, and a separate, magical life we lead in a land where everything is free. We almost take offense when someone suggests that stuff we get for free now is actually worth, you know… money.
And yet we all know in the back of our minds that the people who create music, movies, books, comics, software, newspaper articles, podcasts, or blog posts are spending their life energy to do it. And even if they consider doing it a labor of love, we all know they could do what they love that much better if they didn’t also have to worry so much about paying the bills.
But let’s get something straight: the only reason that the things we get off the Internet can even project an illusion of being “free” is that once they are created, the cost of distributing them is essentially zero— lost in the noise of the fees we pay just to be online.
The reality is that nothing is free— at a minimum the people who create these things are spending their precious life energy.
Most of us are raised with a strong ethic that we should get what we pay for, and conversely that we should pay for what we get. And we are getting so much— our lives have been immeasurably enriched by the communication, collaboration, and culture that the Internet makes possible— I don’t know anyone who denies this. At the same time, we are daunted by the logistics of directly and materially expressing our gratitude to the people who, every day in little ways, make our lives better with their creativity. On the other side of the equation, thousands of creative people turn away from their potential because they know there’s no good way to be noticed sufficiently to break through to earning a decent living doing what they do.
The need for a way to bring these creative producers and consumers together directly has, over the past 15 years, been slowly pressurizing our culture with a sense of cognitive dissonance. As I browse the Internet, I often find myself thinking things like “That was a good video! I hope she does more.” I take the time to leave an encouraging comment, but also in that moment, I know that if I had the ability to drop a nickel (or a penny, or a dollar) directly into that person’s pocket, I would. Like Johnny Appleseed I would happily repeat this sowing of tiny amounts of money everywhere I went. I would sleep more peacefully knowing that thousands of other people like me were doing the same— encouraging the creators to wake up the next day, find their hats full of nickels, and keep creating.
But I can’t. At least, not so far. The introduction of true, sub-dollar micropayments has failed repeatedly. So far the closest successful examples are eBay’s PayPal and Apple’s App Store. But in these cases, there is a middle man with a monopoly taking a large chunk of the transaction, and with a corporate mandate to veto any transactions that seem the least bit risky. These factors make tiny, anonymous transactions infeasible with either, and they have been the major reason why no micropayment system has succeeded… yet.
The situation I have just described is but one of a number of compelling reasons that a new form of electronic currency is required. And finally, a brilliant new invention now exists that fulfills all the requirements I listed above: Bitcoin.
I’m not exaggerating when I call this a brilliant invention. I’ve spent the past several days in complete and utter geek awe over its beauty and simplicity. Bitcoin is real money. It can easily play the role of the nickel I anonymously toss into the pocket of a deserving musician, writer, or artist, as it can play the role of the fees I earn for writing software, or for the revenue I earn for selling my software directly to users. It can also be used to buy real-world hard goods. Like gold, silver, or other commodities, the price of Bitcoin fluctuates against the dollar and all other currencies. Like fiat currencies such as the dollar, it is not “backed” by anything except peoples’ desire to use it for the things that every other currency is used for. But unlike other currencies, Bitcoin has no central banking or fractional reserve system that controls the money supply. Like gold and silver, the amount of Bitcoin in the world is governed by the laws of physics and mathematics, not the whims of governments.
And Bitcoin is available now. You can download the software and be up and running in minutes. You can get a few Bitcoin cents to play with for free from the Bitcoin Faucet or buy a few dollars worth of Bitcoin from Mt. Gox. If you have goods or services to sell then you can learn how to start accepting Bitcoin for them. With some Bitcoin in your wallet, you can shop for goods and services from merchants who accept Bitcoin, or simply start dropping nickels into the pockets of deserving charities around the net like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and deserving creative types… like me.
It’s not too late! Send whatever you like to my Bitcoin address:
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A tumblelog is a place for short, stream-of-consciousness links to various web pages, images, videos, or text snippets I’ve found interesting or amusing, but which don’t merit much further commentary. It also exists because after researching a particular topic of interest, I’ve often found myself with dozens of open tabs that I don’t really want to bookmark in my browser, but do want to have some record of— in case I ever want to remember what I was doing instead of the more important things I should have been doing.
Oh, and the tumblelog also incorporates the RSS feeds from my Twitter account, which in turn includes links to my blog posts. So if you want a single RSS feed that covers all three, go for this one.
I now have a Twitter account, so if you want to tune into my ongoing answer to the question “What are you doing now?” then feel free to follow my tweets. The sidebar of my blog now also includes my latest tweets. I plan to keep them to two to three per day, and I’ll see whether I can make them interesting. But no promises.
U.C. Berkeley has been making many of its lectures available in downloadable audio and streaming video (that unfortunately requires the RealPlayer.) Now UCB is making its lectures available on YouTube, which is a more convenient format for many people.
Here is the first lecture from Physics 10: Physics for Future Presidents. Everyone should know this stuff even if you never plan on being President. The rest of the semester can be found in the YouTube playlist here.
Currently only 9 courses are available on YouTube, but that’s already 200 hours of video, and UCB promises to continue expanding this offering. Many more courses going back to 2001 are still available in the RealPlayer format.
This test pretty much pegged mine.
|What American accent do you have?
Your Result: The West
|The Inland North|
|What American accent do you have?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz
Deep within my earliest childhood memories I have the indelible image of a vague and frightening setting: a featureless room with no doors or windows— floor, walls, and ceiling the same gleaming white grid. In the room a man sits alone with no memory of his arrival, wishing to be anywhere else. People appear and talk with him, teasing him with ideas of freedom, toying with his mind. His memory uncertain, his reality unstable, he doubts everything and wonders whether he can even hold on to his sense of self.
This nightmare is kindred to the fever delirium I experienced a few times as a child— a kind of temporary insanity where 320 BPM explosions pound in the silence of my room and my bed sheets feel like corrugated metal under my touch. It isn’t real, I tell myself. It will pass. But the memory lives, patiently waiting for me to revisit my menagerie of childhood nightmares— like the white room.
Fast forward to two years ago. I am 38 years old. I have long had a taste for existential plays like Brazil, Groundhog Day, and The Truman Show — stories that confront one with questions about the nature of existence and the meaning of one’s life. In my web surfing I come across references to a B-movie I had never seen simply called Cube, about a group of people inexplicably trapped in a three-dimensional maze fraught with deathtraps. Interesting, I think… sounds a lot like my childhood nightmare. But it’s far too new for me to have seen it back then, and my nightmare was terrifying, but not violent. I see they even made a couple sequels: Cube2: Hypercube and Cube Zero. They certainly don’t look like “must see” classics. Perhaps someday I’ll check them out.
Fast forward to yesterday. I am 40 years old. On a whim I decide to see what Wikipedia has to say about that movie I heard of a couple years ago. I type the article name into the search box, but get it slightly wrong:
Wait a minute— this isn’t the movie I saw referenced before… it’s much older: made for television in 1969. I would have been four years old when it aired. There aren’t any deathtraps, just a man in a white room with no way out…
Hear that sound? That’s my mind blowing.
The shock of familiarity is overwhelming. Is this the source of my childhood nightmare? It sounds like it, but is there some way I can watch it to be sure? It turns out I can. There are people out there trying to save movies and television shows of the 60s and 70s from the dustbin of history. It turns out there is even a Yahoo Group devoted solely to the history and discussion of The Cube. And there is a BitTorrent stream where it can be downloaded in its entirety. (I recommend VLC player for viewing.)
Though the details had been lost in my memory, I am left with no doubt by my fresh viewing: this is my nightmare, down to the despairing ending.
And the evil, twisted genius of a filmmaker responsible for infecting me with this honored member of my childhood menagerie?
The magic smoke pours from what little mind I have left.
Jim’s work has long been an inspiration to me, including Sesame Street, The Muppet Show, The Muppet Movies, Fraggle Rock, Dark Crystal, Labyrinth, and other works too numerous to mention. His untimely death in 1990 was a personally-felt tragedy. And I have since had the honor of working on a project directly with Jim Henson’s Creature Shop where I contributed to a re-design of their animatronics system.
I don’t consider knowledge of something complete until you have experienced its dark side. Finally seeing The Cube as an adult has been a dark homecoming for me. It stands as a portent of the imagination and energy that would later become such a treasured part of my childhood and beyond.
Thanks again, Jim.
I decided to switch to WordPress for three reasons:
- I’m a control-freak when it comes to my web site.
- I wanted to better understand the state-of-the-art in web technology.
- It’s really easy to install and administer.