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Published on October 15, 2015 By Phil Osborn In Internet

Remember "Firefly."

That should be in the back of every programmer's personal perspective, like "Remember the Alamo," "Never again!," or the "Fermi Paradox," cosmic tweets conveying the essence of a haunting question or a meta-wrong still not set right, or, ... if you will, a battle cry!  Look up "Firefly."  Here's a reasonable source:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Firefly_(website)

No doubt the reader has run into the Firefly algorithm on Amazon and elsewhere, commercialized and restricted by brand.  I.e., you could have had access to the entire universe of internet users as input to the issue of what you might want to find.  Instead, "if you liked 'x'" gives you a sampling restricted by Amazon, or whoever, to meet their own marketing needs.  The difference is similar to that between GM and "Consumer Reports."  GM will happily give you all kinds of choices - of GM products.

Firefly was barely off the ground, as measured by what they could have done - had Microsoft not bought it up and then killed it and then resurrected it like scattered zombie organs.  What could have been the limits of affinity matching, you might wonder?  Little bits and pieces of the original project show up in sites like Amazon, licensed from Microsoft, key technology that once enabled us to capitalize on our collective experience and wisdom.  How much did that cost us - the human species (or, actually - life on Earth as such)?  How many billions of problems were more solvable with the Firefly algorithm?  How many millions have died in this one example of how not to do intellectual property?  As I recall, Firefly had about 2 million users and was growing exponentially when it was "retired." 

I had the same idea way back in the late '70's, so I'm sure that at least thousands of others independently came up with a similar design, long before even the MIT originators.  Yet our patent laws allow one of many originators to seize the whole idea, on the basis of encouraging innovation.  Right.  And who is financing that battle to concentrate power?  Check out the copyright law and its champion - a certain rodent...  The equivalent applies to patents via the new first-filed rule.

(Due to first to file, we are fast approaching the dilemma of France after the Magna Carta as detailed in Fukuyama's wonderful "Trust."  Economically we know that when you restrict supply or artificially lower prices, you get lines, and then you get line scalpers, or line sitters who bid up their position to the current market value.  The market abhors freebies.)


There is an even darker side than the millions of losses due to withholding a product.  WHY was Firefly killed?  Why not just cash in and run the ball to its limit?  Why was the Amiga killed?  Xanadu?  What is going on? 

The game is power. Payments are not always monetary. And any resistance will be dealt with.

Next, let us apply this line of analysis to Peeple...

We make evaluations of other people all the time, whether in long term relationships - as in romance or employment  - or in terms of who we consider worth listening to.  Are they efficient or not?  Can they  stay focused? Do they really know what they're claiming?  Are they honest or just out to grab and run? 

The book "Freakonomics" is an excellent source for learning to look for the telltale signs of common conflicts of interest, but one underlying problem is our limited time and personal resources.  How many people in 2005 would have sworn that Bernie Madoff was a paragon of virtue, a magician of finance, pillar of the investment community...?

Criminals and sociopaths of all stripes are dependent upon not being exposed.  Thus, the question naturally arises as to the motives of some of the instant critics of Peeple.  I'm not trying to defend the APP or its authors, just wondering about the firestorm response.  The natural targets of such a people-rating system are people who have something to hide.  It might not even be something bad - maybe they're gay in a country that does not gladly tolerate sexual deviance.  Maybe they have the wrong ancestry or religion...

And, of course, I'm focusing on the downside, while the actual authors of Peeple are insisting that that was never part of the plan, that only varying degrees of positive ranks would be permitted.  Either way, the net net is a ranking of people by other people, something we do all the time, whether in an election or our choice of a doctor or on our blog.  Typically when we try our hand at ranking someone for some purpose, our database is extremely limited.  Maybe two or three people had something to say online about a surgeon.  Peeple might improve that. And how bad can it be?  Does Obama lie awake worrying about the way the hundreds of thousands of Birthers feel about him? 

(We - most of us - will race blocks to get a $1 bargain hamburger, while baulking at an extra 30 minutes in a real estate deal that matters in thousands of dollars.  We stress over some lone troll's verbal sputum, while he or she gloats over our imagined angst.  Meanwhile, our real enemies and real dangers - e.g., global warming and ISIS - fade into the background - until another 9/11.)    

E.g., on a scale of 1 to 5, how would you rate Doctor X?  Two or three ratings does not a valid sample make.  Twenty or thirty is another matter.  Bottom line - we need something like Peeple as a culture, society and civilization.  But ~one in twenty of us is a sociopath, bent on demonstrating power through hurting us.  Might that explain much of the over-the-top reaction, such as the alleged death threats?  

Normal people do not employ death threats to object to an information service, but many of the rabid posters are clearly members of the sociopath 15 million strong (in the U.S.) minority who have few if any qualms as to inflicting harm or terror.  Not all, certainly.  There were and are valid concerns about how Peeple is or was allegedly to have been structured and they should be freely aired.  In fact, I would suggest an ongoing meetup format aimed specifically at meeting the positive goals the Peeple originators had in mind.

To digress a bit... In the late '70's I recall thinking through what the future of information entailed.  I could easily imagine a world information system that took grassroots information from billions of users and collated it, making large-scale cover-ups virtually impossible, leading to a virtual world history.  Of course, there are plenty of people out there - dictators, corporate criminals, holocaust prison guards, etc. - who would oppose such a system by any means available.

Perhaps it was just coincidence that we saw the finance people take over Atari, leading to the mass exodus of the former Atari tech gurus who then created the Amiga on a showstring budget, or the demise of Xanadu when the financiers took over Autodesk, or the death of the Amiga itself as the financiers played insider games with the company, or the takeover of Apple by the bankers, or the rejection of BeOS and Gassee, in favor of Jobs and NeXT.  Or the lack of progress on the internet itself for the past decade, once Microsoft hit upon how to stifle competition by packaging the browser with the OS.

What we are seeing is the evolution of power, which entails the channeling, marginalizing and stifling of bottom-up sources that might challenge the preferred corporate fantasies.  Systems like Peeple must be stamped out or co-opted. 

One of the defining cultural characteristics of America used to be an often radical and sometimes obnoxious egalitarianism, which the early socialists who took over Harvard in the 1820's ran head on into when they tried to sell their idea of the New Socialist Man, and the compulsory state education system that would prepare the minds of the children for the new world order.  It took four decades of conspiracy and the Civil War to get them what they wanted - and then it didn't work.




In fact, what became ultimately "progressive" education had the effects that one might expect out of a system designed to force a set of alien values down children's throats:  hostility, hatred of learning, neurosis and suppressed anger fermenting into depression, apathy, and a general lack of moral fiber after years of rewarding those who best play the game.  Children know when they're being told one thing and shown another, but enduring years or boredom and essentially slavery to an alien idea  - and often a sociopath teacher - saps the spirit - which is the real point to begin with - to produce good little citizens to fight our wars and do boring, marginal jobs, while a sociopathic elite eats our lunch. 

Subverting childhood education was just phase one of the conspiracy that Gatto and Spring independently uncovered.  Other concurrent phases include such things as professional licensing - creating classes with a vested interest in maintaining their status as protected guilds.  Consider student debt...   Those kids are going to have to pay that back, and wouldn't it be simply fair to transform those crippling liabilities into restrictive licensing?   Making the use of "professionals" mandatory - as with doctors?

What I figured out in the late '70's was that (1) the information revolution was the greatest threat to top-down power - whatever the underlying philosophy - that had ever existed.  Like the print revolution all over again but orders of magnitude more disrupting.  and... (2) that there would be a coordinated backlash.

In the late '80's or early '90's I predicted in a self-published pamphlet that I distributed through a physical public bulletin board at the offices of Anthony L. Hargis & Co., a libertarian gold depository,  that there would likely be a major terrorist strike in the U.S., probably around the turn of the century, leading to a massive build-up of state power, as in NSA.  I suggested that the terrorist strike might consist of attacks on centers of power by civilian aircraft used as flying bombs, backed up by bio or chem weapons - specifically anthrax, which is readily available.

The whole point of this would be to justify the response, whose net net would be the stifling of that American egalitarianism, in favor of the elite.  Now you know or suspect why we spent our treasure and reputation in our useless murderous military campaigns.  The more enemies we create, the more justification for more killing capability and a more powerful internal security system.  It all makes sense. 

(Note that ALH&Co was destroyed, totally illegally by the feds, around 2004.  See my blog: http://philosborn.joeuser.com/article/26478/Anthony_L_Hargis_Co_-_A_Case_Study_in_the_Present_Danger  It appears to have been essentially a political attack on Hargis for the material he published on his website.  To the best of my knowledge, no customer of Hargis was ever successfully prosecuted in connection with the apparent alleged vast conspiracy to resist taxes.  Instead the feds used that ever so convenient concept of seizure to locate and seize all of Hargis's assets without any need for a trial or a Grand Jury. I don't know if there was some kind of esoteric link between my short article describing how and why a major terrorist event might be orchestrated and the attack on ALH&Co. 

It seems tenuous, and I have real doubts about massive conspiracies in general, but my prognosis was certainly on target. If there was/is a great conspiracy to defeat the information revolution and return us to a new form of feudalism, regardless of any role by me, it looks depressingly like they won.  A tiny fraction of the population now essentially owns the planet, and any person or company that bucks this or comes up with a truly new breakthrough product can expect to be spending the remainder of their lives defending themselves against the patent trolls, until one of the big boys takes over. This is why there is such resistance to the Basic Income concept, which would empower the masses to choose how they want to live, instead of being handed a vetted list of masters to choose from.  See my article on Basic Income: 

http://philosborn.joeuser.com/article/450215/A_General_Solution_to_Poverty )

We are currently dominated by the phase of intellectual theft, in which arbitrary claims, backed up by armies of attorneys are locking away our future, as with Firefly.  Or maybe Peeple?

How will we incite the passion to counter the concentrated demonic powers of soulless corporatism before we are coopting into the downward spiral of global necromancy? Where is Bastiat when we need him?

On the other hand... The BIG NEWS!  Google: New York Times cardboard.   As most of my readership here knows, I've been following VR for a LONG time.  The problems of resolution and refresh are still major with the best systems out there. I've played with the various versions of Rift over the past year or so, and even $billions of dollars backing can't create the needed tech out of thin air. 

There is only so much you can do with trying to stretch a few thousand pixels across 110  degrees.  Perhaps something more can be eked out of image jitter, perhaps combined with pupil tracking or some kind of interlace mode, but the "screen-door" effect is a real problem and only about four times the effective resolution will solve it.  In some ways, ironically, the old systems of the late '80's were more convincing because of the pixel blurring inherent in the displays.  Meanwhile, that killer APP that Zuckerburg was searching for?  The Times may have it.

How does it connect with my theme on Peeple?  Consider how the Times VR system will and could work.  The first VR offerings are on the order of a visual exploration of a village that went through the ebola epidemic.  I.e., putting the subscriber in a shared reality of news interest, with the opportunity to explore and presumably interact.  Is "cardboard" up to the task?  The major component will be the user's smart phone, so that answer will vary.  I've used two different versions on two different smart phones and the quality was roughly on a par with Rift, altho of course the extra features such as 3D audio may be worth it to intensive users or those - like myself - whose hearing is deteriorating tp spend the few extra bucks to get a prosumer rig. 

I'm hoping that the VR APP that the Times releases will have some degree of audio sophistication, such as frequency balancing to the user profile.  And of course there will be compatible APPs from Oculus, etc., I'm sure, for those power gamers who would buy Rift anyway.

The NYT will be mailing 1.1 million of cardboard over the next few weeks, to all its paid subscribers.  I would guess that perhaps 500K will actually start using it right away - at least a test drive.  Maybe 250K will quickly become regular users.  That's probably enough to kickstart a surge of content development that could carry through to the next phase of potential buy-in from the general public, who may end up largely using cardboard as a way to convert their smartphone into a personal wide screen TV or DVD equivalent.  Imagine kicking it at the beach, watching the Ring Cycle up close with awesome 3D audio.

The YouTube phase will not be long in coming, either.  Why not interact with a real person in that ebola-ravaged village via VR?  Find out who they really are and how you can help them personally.  Smart phones are penetrating the hinterlands everywhere and cardboard is CHEAP!  You can witness up close and personal a battleground in Syria, an art unveiling in Paris five minutes later, and then a lion running down its prey, as seen from the lion's and the prey's perspective.

And why stick to an inherently top-down design - whether a $10 Cardboard or a ~$200 Rift?  Makers...  Times a'wastin.   Let's see who in the 3D printing / robotic maker-sphere can come in with the best Cardboard knock-offs, with custom everything, as in ltattoos or motorcycle helmets.  Let's make it personal (is that a great maker slogan or what?).  Why not let the NYT smooth a path that millions of flowers can bedeck.  This is perhaps one of our best shots at a gateway to a more human, bottom-up society.

And that's where I start to worry...  What kind of regulation will be proposed, ostensibly for privacy or exploitation's sake,  but aimed at stemming the coming potential flood of egalitarian world information?  I can see the potential for a credibility driven market of worldwide amateurs vs. professionals.  And for once, this all seems to be emerging at the cusp of many entries.  A synergy of creative forces - NYT, VR, Google, Rift, Peeple - all with the  potential of freeing up those creative forces that are our birthright as humans and not restricted to some vacuous elite.

JIT - Just in time, as Vinge used the acronym in his novel "Rainbows End"...

What's a good word for that kind of new, experiential network weaver journalist?  Come on now...  Make yourself a piece of history.   I'll throw out a term for starters:  Jitters - people who stay ready to turn on a dime and deliver what is needed right when it is needed.  A Jitter, to Jitter, Jittering... ?

In conclusion, I'll throw this out just as a place-holder, and because it so inspired me that I actually dragged myself to the keyboard tonight, dead on my feet:


Thank you for being who you are, Mr. Koch, and for renewing my energy.  And thanks, Kai, for a great interview.

Now all we need is a crowd-funded revolution that turns our corrupt and self-corrupting intellectual property system on its head.  Let's start with the idea that if you choose to go for a property title - patent or copyright - then you have to license anyone who wants to use that privileged idea at a reasonable rate.  Property and proprietorship are wonderful engines of prosperity and progress, but only if they're fair.  Good night, everybody...

As an aside, isn't it interesting how Zuckerburg was able to spot the pattern that led him to spend $2Billion for Rift, yet it was the NYTimes plus Google with Cardboard that saw how to make it actually work as a market - assuming that it does.  Typical aspy.  I'm one, myself, of course - like having X-Ray vision but lousy normal eyesight.

Note to commenters: Apparently, JoeUser does not allow bloggers to comment on their own blogs, so I'm reduced to inserting it here.

ElanaAhova and others who are unintentionally jacking MY thread:  No offense - I'm a huge fan of Firefly the series and I've watched "Serenity" at least 10 times and look forward to seeing it again on the big screen in Irvine when the BrownCoats do their next fund-raiser.  (I saw the LAST commercial showing of Serenity with a girl friend.  There was ONE other viewer, and she turned out to have played a tiny bit part that she was given by Wheeden in appreciation of all the Firefly fanish involvement and support of the movie. That was her 17th viewing.)

Anyway, I'm going to delete your comments simply to avoid getting more sidetracked even than usual and it's not like they were earthshaking commentary to my hardscrabble.  For future reference, go ahead and comment, even if it's off the thread, but assume that I may delete it after a decent airing.


on Oct 22, 2015

(Phil)  I'd just like to pass along that I forwarded this blog to a couple dozen of my personal contacts, with a small but strongly positive response in support of Peeple.  What other synergies and plots can we add to the mix?

on Oct 23, 2015

I thought you meant the TV series Firefly.. and the movie serenity.  Interesting read.