Category Archives: Technology

Towards a universal trade protocol

In this great talk by Bernard Lietaer, he talks about why the presence of complementary currencies actually INCREASE the stability of a nation’s official currency: Bernard Lietaer – Why we Need a Monetary Ecosystem, INRIA 2014

I’m 100% in agreement that we need complementary currencies to increase the sustainability of our trade networks, both alternative forms (like the e-dollar) of the main competitive debt-based national currencies, but also, and especially, other types of currencies based on different rules (such as to facilitate cooperation over competition, or to incentivize local trade over global trade, etc).

You might enjoy a very short paper that summarizes these ideas that I wrote for an economics class in 2008: Complementary Currencies Increase Economic Sustainability (PDF)

One recurring question I have is: to what degree would having a universal protocol for trading different currencies facilitate there being more of them commonly and easily used and exchanged?

One reason I’m enamoured with Ripple’s and Stellar’s designs is that they facilitate trade between currencies (which can be virtual currencies or proxies for other things). One potential problem is that they enforce the use of their own monopoly currency in order to transact these other currencies. This is why I’m curious as to the potential of a plain ‘bare bones’ trade protocol based on the federated consensus protocol (FCP) that is free from any direct linkage with an underlying transaction currency. This might be useful for facilitating trading information flow between disparate actors completely free of any single central currency or network. The primary driving question for this is whether it would be intrinsically useful and valuable enough in its own right to motivate use and validation without the incentive of the built-in transaction fees that are provided by XRP/STR currencies. This is similar to how the internet itself operates. ISPs and internet backbones are incentivized to provide data flow based on out-of-band financial agreements. The beauty of ripple/stellar/ethereum is that they build the validation incentive right into the system. But they are precomposed of several layers of protocols into one system. My question is what value is there in refactoring the trade protocol layer into its own standalone protocol.

Ethereum takes the transaction currency (the Ether) a huge leap further by enabling logic to be validated with it. In some ways this is orthogonal to the idea above of the benefit of a bare-bones implementation of an FCP-based trading protocol. Ethereum has its own consensus protocol and makes it possible to define a Ripple-like trading network directly on the Ethereum block chain. The potential problem is that it again creates a dependence on the Ethereum central (monopoly?) currency in order to transact.

My curiosity remains as to whether there’s some benefit to there being a pure definition of an FCP-based trading protocol, one that’s completely free of any one underlying monopoly currency system. In some ways it would be a pure protocol in the sense that it would exist primarily as a white paper or protocol description document. It would exist materially first as a reference implementation that runs based purely on intrinsic motivation, and later by various implementations on top of any or all specific information exchange systems, block-chain or otherwise. Perhaps it would just be what Ripple and Stellar already are, but without the XRP/STR layers.

The potential benefit from having this sort of generic FCP trading protocol is akin to having a universal DSL (domain specific language) for currency trading. My sense is that this would foster greater ability for intrinsically motivated parties to get up and running with trading a new currency. Cyclos provides a great product for getting up and running quickly with a new currency, but it does so solely through creating a new walled and isolated garden. A universal protocol for trading currencies would facilitate more communication between different and disparate currency systems.

A self-hosting self-emergent system

The goal: an app hosting system that is emergent from that which is hosted.
The beginning: a component consisting of one UI button that when clicked begins a component creation/extension process that can both construct its own self and any larger system composed of self-emergent pieces. This larger system includes within it this same ability to modify and extend itself.

Primary aspects are the approach to self building and the final user view. WordPress is increasingly adding features that Drupal pioneered in terms of abstracting the notion of what is a “post”, or a “node” in Drupal, to make it easier to add custom content types. You can create a new content type, add predefined or custom fields to it, to create something specific like “Product” or “Article” and to differentiate it from a blog post or web page using different fields. These are CMSy things. In attempting to actually use these systems on both Drupal and WordPress, I’ve found that there is a conceptual difference between the backend user interface for generating these custom content types, and the front end display. Usually, the backend system works well for creating the data schema and editing the data, but there are large obstacles for creating and using the display part work without a lot of custom front end work. The biggest trouble with both the backend and the frontend is that they have strong opinions about how the data is stored in the DB and significant platform requirements for how the data is displayed within the context of the pre-existing WordPress and Drupal way of doing things. Both pretty much require using custom templates and display themes to really make use of the custom types, and even then, the designer needs to know the platform specific ways of doing things. Basic knowledge of these is necessary to using and applying inbound marketing software to one’s web strategy. This then spreads the custom types logic out between very different layers: DB storage for data schema, DB storage for data, business logic in a code module, display logic in templates (stored either in a DB or in code), display style in a theme.

One challenge I keep running into is how to abstract this CMS idea of custom content types on the backend side even more, and yet at the same time how to make all the pieces work together even better out of the box on the frontend display and usability side. The Ceptr and Om.Next approaches seem to be heading in similar directions of encapsulating all the parts of a given unit of system into one package that is constructed with specific rules to make it interoperable with other packages. The notion here is more one of self-contained packages that adhere to global protocols of package interoperability. I can imagine abstracting WordPress and Drupal modules further to arrive at a similar place. I can imagine a WordPress Ceptr module that acts as a container for running this new kind of module. This container module could itself be, or include, a module generator for creating new modules, and even for modifying itself, since it’s generated from its own self-emergent creation methods.

Our smart phones are crippled by service provider prisons

I just watched a good talk by Alec Muffet about how our smart phones are amazing computers, but that we are being kept prisoners inside walled gardens by our mobile providers and prevented from having full internet connectivity.

You and Your Phone are Huge Threats to the Net #security #privacy #tor #dns 
“This is the talk I presented at Reading Geek Night 27 on Jan 10th; the theme was the power of mobile computing and of real networking, and of how NAT, IPv4, DNS, and the typical provision of network a…”

I keep thinking since I heard Eben Moglen talk about the #FreedomBox at an Internet Society conference in NY, that we need a #FreedomPhone movement.  A first step might be to support a mobile phone manufacturer that attempts to build a more open-friendly phone like the GeeksPhone

Another step would be to increase demand for the WiMAX (4G wireless broadband) open protocols in the phone (LTE is also 4G but is created by existing wireless providers) and start putting up these towers in communities, possibly with the option of acting as a roaming tower for existing phone providers that use WiMAX (Sprint here in the States). This could be done as a for-profit venture, getting smaller communities on 4G while at the same time enabling local community information freedom.  One selling point would be that a local community could communicate wirelessly with its self for free, or outside for a small nominal VOIP level rate like $0.01/minute.

The technology is converging on VOIP everywhere, which is just voice sent over internet data packets. I think existing voice providers is transforming to walled garden internet service providers (AOL style), which is also why they’re selling these amazing handheld computers that can’t act as standalone internet peers.  “Freedom” 4G (WiMAX / LTE) towers that would allow being a peer on the internet, and pressure put on the existing providers by the users would be steps in the right direction.

I think for pressure to be brought by users, there would need to be a compelling use case, “meme,” or app that would make users want it enough to bug their providers for it, or more likely, to ditch their “providers” for the Freedom alternative.  I’m not sure what this game changing meme might be for others, but for me it would be a personal social networking node (Diaspora) running on the phone, with private and secure P2P text, voice, and video,  including a legacy “phone number” for connecting to land lines, mobile phone prisoners, etc.  This phone would then sync to my FreedomBox at my home for keeping my data secure in case my phone is stolen or lost.  I could also use the home box for converting the VOIP to a legacy land line “phone call,” or a VOIP provider (like voip.ms) could be used for $0.01/minute.   In all these situations, the wireless and land services are just barebones internet providers, utilities essentially, whether by a corporation or a local community.