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Engineer, startup founder, investor, and writer

benwerd

benwerd

benwerd

ben@benwerd.com

werd.eth

 

Thoughts and actions for the week of September 20, 2021

I’m going to start kicking off my week with a list of thoughts and actions. Join me!

Thoughts

  1. There was a time when the web was really fun: a new medium that people approached with a sense of play. Even TechCrunch, back when it was a blog run by Mike Arrington, seemed like a collection of small experiments. Now it’s like reading a list of private equity updates. That’s what happens when an industry grows up, I guess, but I miss the sense of discovery and wonder. Remember the first social network, or marveling at what Flickr was able to do with a web interface? Or being excited by what one person in their bedroom could put together?
  2. The closest we have to this kind of new platform is smart contract blockchains (Ethereum, Algorand, and so on). Aspects of them are pretty cool, but the fact that money is involved creates a de facto barrier to entry. I could get into the web because it was free and because it had relatively low computing requirements. We didn’t have a lot of money. Which kids are getting into Ethereum when just the gas on a transaction is often tickling $100? $1 would have been too high a barrier for me.
  3. I’m therefore really interested in the decentralization without the monetization. What does a totally free blockchain look like? Is it even possible, given the incentives in the network? Are other, non-monetary incentives possible? Does decentralization really have to bake in capitalism? Why?
  4. What else is it baking in? Software carries with it all kinds of implicit cultural biases based on the predilections of the developers who build it. What would a barter-based decentralized protocol look like? Or one designed around paying forward? Or one designed to penalize wealth hoarding?
  5. I’m not an economist, but lately I’ve been lucky to spend a lot of time hanging out with a former expert in east-west trade with an Oxford PhD in the subject, in addition to advanced law degrees with a specialization in contracts. He’s my dad, I should declare, but our conversations on the topic have been fascinating. I’ve tried and failed to get him to blog, but maybe one day I’ll write up one of our conversations here.

Actions

  1. Last week my car was smashed into and all my devices were stolen. Replacing them was pretty quick, but replacing my backpack (a Peak Design Everyday) and getting the glass repaired on my car has been less easy. This week, both those things need to happen.
  2. I spent some time today laying out some architectural diagrams for my job. I need to get some internal feedback and then put them into practice.
  3. Last week, I joined the Zebras Unite co-op as an individual member. I’ve been following the zebras since literally day one, and I’m excited to help them more deeply. I need to learn how I can be most useful to the community and put myself out there. Helping people who are genuinely out to distribute equity and make the world a more equal place is a life-affirming thing to do.
  4. I get to catch up with some friends (outside) this week, and hopefully see some live music. I’m looking forward to it.
  5. I think I’ve got an ear infection, and not for the first time this year. I actually first noticed it months ago, but it was the day my mother died, and I’ve had other priorities since then. No more putting it off: I’ve made an appointment with an ENT doctor and hopefully we can figure it out.

Have a good week!

 

I love hearing more and more electric vehicles on the streets. I wish they were buses and trams, but still.

 

Looking for a writer’s group

I’m looking for a writer’s group that meets some or all of the following characteristics:

It’s completely private. Everyone agrees that nothing leaves the group.

It’s almost all asynchronous. No Zoom write-ins, etc. Every month there’s a check-in where you can read aloud if you want to, but contributors are from all around the world and therefore lots of different timezones, so the synchronous part isn’t required.

Everyone is working on either one long-form fiction work, or a series of short stories. There’s no non-fiction.

Everyone must submit at least 1000 more words of their work every week for everyone else to read. People can leave comments but don’t need to crit.

If you don’t submit work, you’re out of the group. (Maybe there’s a three strikes rule.)

It works seasonally - so you commit to a season, but if you fall out you can start again for the next season.

I haven’t seen anything like this. Have you?

 

Constantly hungry for constructive criticism, and particularly hungry for guidance during this moment of my life. What could I be doing better? But asking for this is an imposition and puts people in a really uncomfortable position. Doing my best.

 

I’m curious how many investors use the Peter Thiel Roth loophole to invest - and how many are scrambling now it looks like it might be going away?

 

You’ll know if something is really democratizing finance if it works as or more beneficially for people with low balances. What’s the threshold at which the gains outweigh the fees (including gas)?

 

There are Gen Z venture capitalists, and I am as old as dust.

 

Fairness Friday: People’s Programs

I’m posting Fairness Fridays: a new community social justice organization each week. I donate to each featured organization. If you feel so inclined, please join me.

This week I’m donating to People’s Programs. Based in Oakland, People's Programs is a grassroots community organization that serves the people of Oakland and is dedicated to “the unification and liberation of Afrikans across the diaspora”.

Its programs include People’s Breakfast, a free breakfast program for Oakland’s houseless community, a health clinic, bail and legal support, a grocery program, and more. Modern inequality and generational injustices mean that organizations like People’s Programs are crucial lifelines for many people.

I donated. If you have the means, I encourage you to join me here. I also donated a tent from their tent drive wishlist.

 

Restore point

Not too long after I wrote my blog post about cars, my car was broken into. Unfortunately, I'd made the unwise decision to leave my backpack in the boot, with all of my devices save my phone. They were swiped unceremoniously.

I feel pretty stupid about it: never leave your valuables in your car in a public place. Particularly not valuables you use for work.

But beyond that, I have a few observations about the cloud. Because less than 24 hours later, I'm completely back up and running again on new devices that have all the data, configurations, and feel of my old ones.

First of all, here's what Find My says about the ones that were stolen:

The headphones and the iPad pinged first, and then my laptop pinged about a minute later. You can see the thief progress north. Find My is pretty good at pinging through any available connection - that's why AirTags work - but the trail runs cold from there. Out of an abundance of caution, I marked the iPad and laptop as locked and left a message in case anyone tries to turn them on. (Unfortunately you can't lock the AirPods.)

This morning I set up a new laptop, and within an hour I had all my apps and files back. It's the same model as the old one, so it's in effect identical, except without all the cool stickers. I'm hopeful that my property insurance will help me pay for the replacement.

I've been backing up on iCloud for a while, and although I have some real worries about some of the direction that Apple's going in (the shelved plan to scan devices is, despite the obviously good intentions, deeply problematic), I'm relatively comfortable with the safety - and certainly the convenience.

For a moment I worried that I'd lost the video of my mother's memorial, which would have deepened this event from an inconvenience into a tragedy. But no, iCloud had managed to back up the video, and I was able to check it this morning.

For all their power, the value of our computers is in the information we store: and by information, I really mean stories, memories, creative work, and the things we make. When I upgrade my laptop or my phone, I get the ability to take photos in a higher fidelity, or create new kinds of things. But that underlying human footprint - the trail of how I got to here, and most importantly, the people I knew and loved - transcends. I'm grateful that I don't need to worry about losing it. It's all just magically there, waiting for me.

Clearing the broken glass out of my car, on the other hand, was a real pain in the ass.

 

It's actually really cool that I can be set up and have new devices restored from backups and working just like my old (stolen) ones in a couple of hours.