Archive | future shock

HERE XYZ and Maps 3.0

HERE XYZ shipped yesterday. It’s hard to talk about it without referring to CARTO so we can do that – it’s just like CARTO in some ways. But really, it’s a glimpse of what GIS will look like in the future as it gets democratized and cheaper. While fulfilling similar goals to GIS – creating maps – it’s opposite GIS in many ways. XYZ is quicker, free (or freeish, it looks like paid plans are coming) and far simpler. It’s built for making mashups and publishable maps today, but you can see a bunch of directions it can go in the future. What it misses today is analysis, we need something in between XYZ and QGIS which would be a real tool you could use to make decisions with.

One super cool thing (for me at least) is the use of OSM everywhere.

Here’s a map I made pulling in some MSFT buildings :

It’s relatively easy to pull in geojson and get it on a map, I grabbed the smallest MSFT buildings file and uploaded that (Washington DC). At first I thought there were Safari bugs as many little things and prompts are missing but switching to Chrome didn’t seem to make much difference. There’s missing squares of buildings that I’m guessing either failed or are still importing. There’s a 1 million object limit so it could have just stopped importing too.

What’s happening is we’re moving to maps 3.0.

  • Maps 1.0 was paper and clunky tools, like reloading a page to pan or zoom a map. Stored in a silo on someones website.
  • Maps 2.0 is/was Google Maps. “free” maps, easy access, easy to add to my site but the same experience for everyone. Generally required a developer to implement.
  • Maps 3.0 isn’t here but we’re starting to get hints of it with CARTO and XYZ. Maps 3.0 removes the need for a developer, lets me customize the map and deploy it anywhere by just clicking around, and include my own data.

What we need to add here are tools that let me tell a story with the map. That means transitions, text, video and interactivity to let an end user explore the narrative. Beyond that it means tools that let me rip, mix and burn a new map. Can I take your map and add something or mash it with another one? Can I let end users do something other than just panning around and zooming, like measuring things, dropping notes, adding more context? That’s what’s really interesting as a set of possiblities.

XYZ bugs & features missing, remembering it’s day 2:

  • Upload of .gz or .zip files looks unsupported, which is important with gigantic MSFT buildings files
  • Upload is kind of slow. I was curious where XYZ is hosted but they have CloudFront in front of it. Maybe it’s in Europe or some other AWS AZ.
  • Login is HERE-only, would be nice to have social logins to make it quicker.
  • Double-click to zoom is missing(!)
  • Inertial map dragging seems to work in Chrome but not Safari.
  • shift-drag to zoom to an area is missing – a major power tool.
  • The default map zoom & location is to show western Europe. It would be nice if it used ip or browser location to show something more relevant.
  • There doesn’t seem to be indication on layer processing, though you do get a upload process bar.
  • The relationships between layers and data is slightly confusing in that you have to upload and then select the layer and then add it. XYZ has gone with the model of having maps, layers and datasets which feels a little inherited from GIS. Instead I really just want to load data on a map and not have these abstractions and dialogs. Just drag a geojson on to the map, boom, data shows up. Not click-click-click-click…
  • Exporting a map gives you some iframe code but it has no css, you have to add height and width
  • Location search is buggy in Safari and in Chrome can show 5 different “Denver” results


Microsoft Encarta Atlas ’97

I have some strange fascination with old Encarta and other CD-ROM titles from 20+ years ago, and how they relate to today. How did encyclopedias and atlas products work then, and how was it different to today? I made a video so you can see how it worked.

Encarta Atlas’ main limitation was storage. So there’s only secondary roads in places, and the aerial imagery is 1 or 10 miles per pixel instead of the high resolution we’re used to today.

Still, most of the UIUX hasn’t changed between then and now. It’s fair to call Encarta Atlas the Google Maps of its time – while Encarta didn’t support shift-drag to zoom to an area… neither does Google today. That’s the only real thing missing on either platform.

3D Printing Bar End Plugs

Continuing the theme of 3d printing… One of my bikes lost its bar end plugs, the holes on the ends here:

To me, these looked approximately like two circles joined by straight lines. Or, sort of an egg-shape. Enter 3D printing! Here’s my hacky model:

And here it is printed:

And two of them, one white, one green, on the bike:

This is sort-of pointless-yet-fun 3d printing, which so far has been the majority of it (the exception being the lever).

All the files are on Thingiverse here.

Access to Tools

This YayLabs Play and Freeze Ice Cream Ball Ice Cream Maker has two identical screw lids on opposite sides of a sphere. In one you put heavy cream and whatever else you want in your ice-cream. In the other you put lots of ice and rock salt. The salt lowers the melting point of the ice, dragging the cream colder than where water would otherwise freeze. You roll the ball around and after 10 minutes or so, have ice-cream.

The problem is that due to various thermal effects the lids get very stuck. Like, hitting-them-with-a-hammer-doesn’t-work stuck. My first theory was to make a cylinder with a notch in it and hope that provided enough grip top open the thing. So I designed and then 3D printed this in 30 minutes:

Which goes on like this:

And of course, that didn’t work. So I added a handle for a lever using OpenSCAD:

Then put it through the printing process using Simplify3D:

Ending up with a basic lever tool:

Which works great!

This isn’t solid plastic. Simplify3D prints a three-dimensional crosshatch mesh inside the solid and it apparently has more than enough strength to open the ice-cream maker. It took about 5.5 hours to print and a few dollars of plastic. I was hoping that some similar tool already existed, with a variable width on the notch piece, to open things like this (or CameklBak’s for example!) But, I couldn’t find anything with my various searches.

I can’t help but think back to The Whole Earth Catalog – Access to Tools:

Making your own tools is a powerful experience, physical tools like my lever thing or ephemeral like software. Try it.

It also made me wonder if this is approximately how things will work out when we get to Mars – shipping lots of 3D printers instead of parts since the cost of delivery will be pretty high and we don’t really have a clue what they’ll need on the ground.

The total design time was about 10 minutes, and the code is all static numbers which reflect the rough measurements of the lids. It helps if you already know some geometry and have the OpenSCAD cheat sheet open.

Someone could take it and make it a more generic tool for various lids by putting different cylinder-notch combinations down the length of the tool, instead of just one at one end. It could also use both sides. Or, various cylinders with a notch on top to take a lever. The lever could be printed or use some common size, like a screwdriver that you could slot in to use as a lever.

The obvious thing to do would be to print a nut in to the top of the cylinder so you can use a wrench. I don’t think it’s very likely the 3D printed plastic would handle the stress of that however. Presumably things like this exist in metal already somewhere, and we can print in various metals today too.

The length of the lever is about the limit of what my printer can print – about 20cm or so, which is less than a foot.

The files are all here on Thingiverse.

Things Get Weirder The More You Study Them

I’ve been struggling to articulate my problem with science with some friends. Not in the sense of chemtrails or the modern world being inherently bad or something, not the idealized science that exists in peoples minds. The problem with real science as practiced by human beings. I have three lines of problems with any science outside experimental physics where there’s an actual reality to test things against.

My friends, to set up a straw man, believe in diligent, hard-working and often well-paid scientists. They possibly wear white lab coats and run experiments. There’s a selection process which somehow funnels the best scientists to the best problems where they Learn Results. These Results are then disseminated to the populace so we can all live better.

So, my problems with this:

First, it’s a giant circle jerk. Having worked in academic environments I’ve seen firsthand how much BS is produced. Most published papers are now not cited by anyone at all, ever. It’s become a write-only medium. So we can throw away 80-95% of academic output and on one level this is fine, it’s okay to frame academia as a place to experiment with a low chance of success. Almost no science studies are double, triple or quadruple blind which is what it would take to actually prove something tentatively in some small domain.

Second, Kuhn. I’ve seen up close highly paid smart people not see the wood for the trees. We have to wait for people to die for progress to happen.

Third, scientism and the application of science in the wrong places. Scientism is where we make things look science-y because of reasons. The application is much more insidious. Consider type-2 diabetes. We study the heck out of it and have scienced our way to artificial insulin which is great for T1 diabetics. Think of all those highly paid and smart researchers figuring out how to make insulin and getting past the FDA. The years and billions of dollars. But for T2, it just slowly kills you. It has enabled a vast number of people to begin and then keep their diabetes rather than solve the problem which is high insulin. Dr Fung points out the insanity of treating high insulin with more insulin, and the first sentence of his first book is “why are there fat doctors”? After all, doctors are smart, highly motivated, diligent and well paid so you can’t just say it’s bad morals, lack of information or laziness.

Today I caught this study about how much Titanium Dioxide diabetics have in their pancreas. Great work, good for them. But there’s something wrong. Again we have smart, motivated and paid researchers off studying some third or fourth-order effect instead of trying to fix the basic problem of diabetes. That problem happens to be also the biggest problem in retail medicine today – obesity predicts almost everything about your health outcome and we’re all obese or nearly there.

To avoid this human problem, we need to keep asking the five whys.

I love science the same way I love the idealized point, line, square or cube. They can only exist in our heads, just as science can only really exist in our heads. When it meets reality, we study causation the wrong way around, publish nonsense or study some downstream effect. And that’s before we use the scientific method to figure out how to make problems worse, like we did with insulin, along the way congratulating ourselves for our techno-scientific progress. Look at all the science the Russians used to copy the Shuttle or Concorde.

It’s like a drug addict who has a unknowing subconscious desire for a drug. They’ll use a vast amount of higher cognition and action to procure the drug and to logically prove to themselves why they need it. These higher-level faculties – the rational mind – are the servant to, not the master of, our subconscious. In the end though, it’s often-if-not-always a subconscious motivation that needs to be compassionately fixed to heal the problem. Throwing the logical downsides of drug addiction at an addict all day long doesn’t work at all.

Ah, but vaccines! And Boeing 787s! And particle accelerators! Of course – there are useful outputs of science-as-practiced-by-humans. Most of us wouldn’t be alive without them, that’s not the point. It’s that this is a tiny minority of science-as-practiced-by-humans and if anything were probably lucky accidents. After all, the guy who invented washing hands (which we all do 10 times a day now) was thrown in a lunatic asylum and died there for it discovering it and then trying to tell people about it! What a clown!

But that is ancient history, right? We’re better now!

I was walking around San Francisco once with a friend when I expressed a desire not to be caught downtown during an earthquake. He assured me that we were safe from collapsing structures since we probably now had “new concrete” that was probably much more earthquake proof. What a wonderful story! Look how easily we can invent narratives! I want some of this “new concrete” for my house! Plus, some buildings had survived previous earthquakes and were likely to be fine. Or were they weakened by previous earthquakes? Or maybe this “new concrete” if it exists has some fatal flaw. We will simply never know, we have to wait for the next earthquake to find out. And yet, here in the richest country in the world with scientists everywhere we can still build bridges that collapse as soon as you install them.

Lastly, there are real limits on our knowledge. First, Cantor’s diagonal slash puts real limits on what we can prove about anything. Cantor is why we remember Godel and Turing – it’s foundational to the computer you’re using to read this with. Second, we can’t even measure the length of a coastline thanks to fractals – as you measure things using smaller and smaller rulers the total measured length can tend to infinity!

These aren’t toys or silly extremes, they cut to the very heart about what it is possible to know (at least, using the systems of knowledge we have) even if we’re perfect and diligent science robots, let alone human beings. And, that’s only two of the constraints. There are more! In order to avoid these problems we have to limit any knowledge we try to build to small buckets of time, space and energy. Because if you study things too much, it gets very odd just like the transition from Newton to wave-quanta in physics. The more we try to pick apart reality using what we know about the human-scale world, the more odd it gets from our perspective. If you try to include the far past or future in your knowledge it all falls apart (the big bang, the heat death of the universe). If you try to include the very fast or very slow, it all falls apart (do I need to mention relativity?). If you try to include things very small or very large, it all falls apart (quanta or dark matter).

What do we do with all this? I have a clue. I’m writing a book about it, sign up to stay in the loop. You’ll only hear about the book, infrequently.

How Amazon is Winning

This week is re:invent, Amazon’s AWS conference in Las Vegas. They’ve been shipping new products about once every 15-30 minutes it seems this week. Everything from magic AI cameras to container management to new databases.

As the announcements keep coming it’s easy to feel disoriented, which may be exactly the point.

John Boyd

I’ve been re-reading Certain to Win, Chet Richards book about Boyd’s OODA loop applied to business. The essential idea is to create disorientation, confusion and withdrawal in your enemy while promoting harmony, speed and effectiveness in your own organization.

It takes a book or three to more fully understand how to do this, but at a high level:

  • The faster you can execute, the less able an enemy is able to predict your movements and counter them.
  • In order to know what to execute you need to:
    • Observe the situation,
    • Orient yourself to it using your knowledge (and possibly just act based on instinct, skipping the Decide step) and,
    • Decide what to do.

To get there as a large organization you need decentralized command. There’s simply too much going on to keep track of everything and plan. To get decentralization, you need a bunch of trust between people.

It looks like Amazon gets its trust from their principles: A fairly concise set of deciders on how to act. It can be used to some extent to resolve situations without referring to management (and therefore politics, I guess). For example, number one is customer obsession. You can use this to decide on something, a feature say, by asking if it’s good for the customer. You’d be surprised how often product managers might want to do things that work badly for customers.

This acts as the implicit guidance & control that goes from Orient to Act, skipping Decide. Or at least, it makes many decisions speedier and easier.

Speaking of speed, there’s another principle titled “Bias for Action”.

Certain to Win includes an anecdote about Yamaha trying to compete with Honda in the motorcycle market, the “Honda-Yamaha War” as it became known. Yamaha declared they’d build a huge bike factory presumably to reduce per-unit costs. Honda countered by producing about ten new bike designs for sale per month.

This huge iterative speed and innovation (trying things at random very fast) beat out Yamaha’s economic strategy of reducing costs and flooding the market. It’s the difference that Thiel tries to get across in Zero to One; the difference between building something new the first time and then copying it. Yamaha, I posit, was trying to out-copy while Honda was trying to create the new thing. Out-copying doesn’t work.

And thus with AWS and the whole of Amazon.

The bewildering speed of new products doesn’t make sense if you’re a competitor trying to keep up by copying. It’s too difficult to keep up and the environment is changing too rapidly. This is how a fast OODA loop works, by setting the timing of the battlefield. The timing, the cadence, is set here by Amazon at a rapid rate. In war, you want to be in the same place with your assets: Your tanks should be moving around and changing so fast that the speed hinders your enemies very understanding of what is happening. It just doesn’t make sense what is happening.

I can’t think of a better analogy for what Amazon is achieving here, whether or not OODA has consciously been deployed internally. If you look, Amazon quietly launches products all the time like this, re:invent isn’t a special case. The only special cases which come to mind are the Kindle and Kindle Phone launches, which if I had to bet, probably act as negative datapoints internally at Amazon anyway. Why do a big launch? My bet is they figured out it wasn’t necessary, they have their homepage and it works just as well.

Amazon will continue to win for as long as their cadence outstrips their rivals. The more rivals try to copy or model it in to simple narratives like having a great website, warehouse robots or other things which are the result of the cadence, they’lll continue to lose. As soon as they start focusing on copying Amazons DNA instead of Amazons products, they’ll win. Much like various cities try to copy having big buildings and airports, just like New York, instead of copying the free market or the US Constitution.

Incidentally, this is why I think Microsoft is doing well right now. The Windows Insider Program is testing out tons of things all the time:

The Disappearing Operating System

There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”

David Foster Wallace

Over time, intellectual property gets commoditized and competed away to become part of the background noise. It becomes the air we breathe and we forget all about it.

We’re reaching this right now with operating systems and the whole OS platform paradigm is going away. This is very weird for someone who grew up with Windows in the 90’s, Linux in the oo’s and MacOS in the 10’s. The OS used to be important. Defining. It was how you worked and what you did. It defined the box you lived in and how you thought about things.

I’m not talking about “everything is just a website now instead of an app”. I’m talking about how when you use an iPad that the computer itself “goes away”. There are no knobs and levers (keyboard & mouse) on an iPad. The distance between you and your work or content just falls away. The medium is the message.

I now have Windows 10, Mac and Linux machines I use all the time. Using them all for various productive things, there’s almost no difference between them. They all run the same software (everything from Bash to Dropbox to Spotify). They all have minor annoyances. And they’re all free. All three are even converging to look the same.

Now they’re all basically the same, and free, we can stop talking about them. It’s just no longer particularly important.

We don’t particularly talk about how much better my Honda is than your Toyota. Though both companies would have us believe they’re completely different vehicles that are key to our lives, they’re really wheeled metal boxes with essentially identical user interfaces.

And so it is, now, with operating systems. It’s all gone, all that investment and paradigmatic dogma. The OS is completely irrelevant to most people.

This wasn’t true only 12 or 18 months ago, but the gently declining quality of macOS and the ascent of Win10 along with its Linux subsystem has erased essentially all the differences. A Mac has the window buttons on the left, Windows has them on the right. That’s it. That’s the difference.

Picking an OS is no longer a meaningful thing to think about for most of us. If the OS is irrelevant and everything will work, give or take, then the hardware takes the place of software as the decision point. We’re now buying a blue computer or a red computer much as we buy a Honda or Toyota. A Dell and a Mac now have essentially identical hardware, it really comes down to which logo you prefer on the front. Or maybe you prefer the Dell carbon fiber box to the Apple aluminum box.

This is interesting since the choice will become (even more) about marketing than anything else. Your friends have a Mac so you buy one, or the shiny Dell is cheaper and you used a Dell last year. That’s the level of logic going forward.

The fly in the ointment

There is no MS Office for Linux. If there were, the picture would be complete. It’s the one thing missing that would remove the barrier to using Linux.

There is no doubt that Microsoft Office remains far better than its competitors, and is the way the majority of the world works. Individual pieces have some competition, for example Keynote is competitive with PowerPoint and in many ways better. But the suite together, and Excel in particular, remains head and shoulders above anything else available.

This is important since if the OS is irrelevant and we don’t care much about a Dell or an Apple logo on the box, MS Office is the only thing that keeps people away from, say, Ubuntu. I predict Office will come to Linux eventually.

Remember, when you buy a drill you’re really buying holes. Corporate America wants to buy “office machines” or “outlook machines”. The logo on the box isn’t very important. No more important than if your drill is built by DeWalt or Ryobi.


Desktop operating systems themselves aren’t super important in the context of phones. People spend more time on their phone and they change them faster. But the OS differences remain fairly stark and the switching costs high.

Despite Apple making iOS as confusing as they can with every release, it still remains roughly half as confusing as Android. This isn’t the case between Ubuntu, Windows 10 and macOS. Those three are about equally confusing.

If Android can get less bizarre and/or iOS continues to lose focus the meaningful difference will vanish like it has on the desktop. It took desktops roughly 20 years to erase all their meaningful differences. Phones are there in roughly a decade (iPhone shipped 10 years ago). Maybe watches or whatever comes next will take 5.

In Sum

Don’t think about operating systems ever again. It’s like travel agents – they didn’t just go away, we entirely change how we travelled and thought about travel.

The desk/laptop computer is changing and it isn’t just because of websites or the cloud. It’s a deeper shift toward computers becoming appliances and the battle moving on to new frontiers. It’s not about what fridge you buy but what you put in it.

The OS has been competed away. The next battle to compete away is for any existing key platforms on top. Things like office and search. Of course the real battle is for conversational interfaces like Alexa and other interesting new things. But here, I’m talking about existing key things on top of the OS. The OS is like your window on to the things you’re really doing, those are the things that are up for the chopping block.

Imagine the OS being an iceberg that’s almost melted and there are a bunch of penguins that are on top. The penguins have to start swimming soon.

What are the next monopolies that will get competed away? To repeat, it’s going to be office, search and the other key things like that  which we use every day.

For some reason I don’t understand, office remains without good competition. Open/LibreOffice is a real mess. Apple’s suite is okay for home users. Google Docs is useful for toddlers. I predict this will change and people will start to become serious about making an office suite that doesn’t suck. Because that’s what people are going to be buying a computer for. There are large material differences between these productivity suites, and as for Outlook, you have to squint very hard to find anything close.

As for search, it’s completely different. The delta between google and bing is about 95% marketing. But then we can say the same thing about Coca-Cola and Pepsi. The fragility is very different, Google is super dependent on a single revenue stream and that is less true of Microsoft every new day.

Pithy Predictions

  1. Windows will become “OfficeOS” in spirit if not name.
  2. Office365 will bundle Windows 10 Pro as part of your subscription.
  3. Office will come to Linux (without the Win10 pro stuff) like it came to Mac (basically 99% works but broken edges unless you use the ‘REAL’ office on windows).
  4. Google will be forced to build a real office suite.
  5. Search market share will remain roughly the same indefinitely.
  6. Apple will give up on macOS in spirit if not name since they have no real unique advantage over windows or ubuntu (this is what you’re seeing today).
  7. iOS will continue to get more confusing and Android will get less confusing, maybe crossing in 2019 or 2020 kind of timeframe.
  8. To defend the realm, and because they’ll be out of options, Apple will buy Android and/or Google from Alphabet – there won’t be a lot of options for them by that point. They may frame it as a strategic alliance, or something else that’s a merger in everything but name. As part of this process, the DoJ will force Apple to spin something out after complaints from Amazon and Microsoft.

Amazon’s Phone Failure

Ben Thompson wrote an interesting piece on Amazon here explaining the awesomeness of Alexa. I quote:


Amazon made the same mistake as Facebook: convinced it needed its own operating system and the direct access to users that entailed, the company made one of the worst phones in history.

There are two issues here:

  1. The post-hoc narrative about how amazing Amazon is to do Alexa but terrible to do the Fire Phone is just post-hoc narrative. In reality both were just experiments, both worth trying.
  2. It wasn’t a failure.

Amazon isn’t driven by the same kinds of narratives of success and failure that other companies generally are. It’s all about experimentation and while the v1 phone lost a boat load of money, they’ll just be back with another one. Amazon right now is selling discounted phones bundled with the amazon ecosystem of apps on them. This is just a very quick and cheap way of testing to see if the market exists.

Amazon already had the operating system for a phone from the Fire tablets. Making a high end phone with experimental features was worth a try.

The only real mistake here is Amazon taking so long to come back with another phone, because there’s a market for it. The time lag is probably from blowing up whatever group(s) made the phone within Amazon and waiting for new ideas to coalesce.

Apple is doing strange and confusing things at the top of the market with their various hardware decisions. Software-wise, iOS continues to get more complicated. The benefit is that if I buy an iOS device then I know it will mostly work.

This security doesn’t exist with Android for Joe Consumer. Without effort, we have no idea what Android device to buy or whether it will work. Who knows which Samsung or Moto device I need and whatever version of Android they’re shipping this week, with what modifications?

Enter Amazon.

If they want, Amazon can ship a cheap, reliable phone with the brand security of Amazon. You’ll know it will work, because it’s Amazon. It’ll just work, like your kindle JustWorks(TM). Amazon can reduce the complexity of the device by using FireOS, because all that work is already done for the tablets.

They can price it at $99 pretty soon due to the various hardware costs dropping and they’d sell millions of them.

The argument against all this would be another Amazon principle – customer obsession. It may make a lot more sense to put resource on new projects where you can define everything (like Alexa) as opposed to making yet another phone where they have no customers today anyway. Reading the tea leaves, this points to those discount Moto devices being a great way to get data to make a decision with fewer nice anecdotes.

For a very similar set of reasons, Microsoft has opportunity at the top of the market to ship what I speculatively call the Office Phone. People have been calling it the Surface Phone but what Enterprise wants to do is basically run Office cheaply. An office/surface phone that runs real windows, probably with the ARM x86 emulation, that connects to a keyboard and display, will allow enterprise to give staff one device instead of 2 or 3 and the security of MS Office.

Designing & 3D printing a coffee mug


Intex make these above-ground swimming pools for about $80. For some reason, I like the edge curvature of the water pressing on the side of the pool wall. Look at the extreme left and right of the pool, that’s what I’m talking about. There must be some nice mathematics behind describing that curve. I have this fantasy of making a coffee mug out of it.

I made this horrible image by cutting and pasting:


One issue is that all the pictures of these pools are from above them, it’s hard to get one edge-on. But, the horrible picture gets the idea across.

As a next step I hired a wonderful architect and designer to help turn the thing in to a 3D model:


From there, some photo-realistic renderings:


This was evolved a little in to something printable. Shapeways lets you print in some beautiful porcelain materials. Here’s a screenshot of the thing on shapeways:


The shape ways materials are nearly sublime. Here’s a sample of ceramic in Cobalt Blue, which is what I’ve ordered the mug in:

screen-shot-2016-09-10-at-8-50-31-am This, I stress, is only version one of the mug. There are a number of things to work through; the size, the wall thickness, the handle, the curve shape and so on. By 3D printing it, I can play with an actual copy.

And so can you, if you want. By clicking a few buttons, you can buy one on shapeways:

It is kind of expensive to print in 3D relative to buying a mass-produced mug at a store, but way cheaper than it used to be to prototype things. Really, it would be near-impossible for me to go do this without shapeways.

My copy of the mug should arrive in a couple of weeks, and I’ll post an update then on what the version 2 iteration will look like.

The Herpes Theory of Government

A new virus tends to kill everything it touches. Think Ebola. Big news, hazmat suits, death everywhere.

If a new virus doesn’t kill everything then it probably isn’t a new virus, and it certainly isn’t news. Therefore for you to know about it, it has to kill everything, otherwise you’d never hear about it. The same way you don’t hear about the nuclear war that didn’t happen yesterday.

It’s a problem if a virus kills everything. I mean of course, for the virus.

For a virus to survive it has to hop around and reproduce by finding new victims. If it doesn’t, then it dies along with it’s host. So it can’t be too deadly because then it’ll never spread.

A virus has to find a sweet spot where it can come along for the ride and kill you but not before you help it find someone else to infect. Ideally, it should be so benign as to never kill you. That way it can infect everyone you meet. Yay!

So the virus starts off by being very deadly. Through mutation and evolutionary selection new strains will appear. Some will be even more deadly! And some won’t.

The ones that aren’t as deadly will spread more since they have more time to spread before killing you. Over time they get less and less deadly.

And thus we arrive at Herpes. We’ve lived with variations of Herpes for millions of years. Over a billion people have the nice version (cold sores). Two thirds of the world has had some kind of Herpes.

It starts off killing everyone and being very unpleasant. Imagine how much fun the not-nice version of Herpes would be for you, living in 1690 or whatever. Then over time it evolved in to something basically benign – cold sores.

Cold sores (Herpes Simplex) have no cure and no vaccine. You’re stuck with it. It’s kind of annoying, but it doesn’t kill you or render you permanently unattractive to the opposite sex.

And thus to government.

Governments used to basically kill everyone. Think kings and queens and Napoleon. Big wars, random reasons for those wars, lots of death. Let’s all build a bunch of ships and kill people.

Over time, government has figured out that if you keep killing everyone then it gets hard to have anyone left over to tax. This is just like a virus evolving to be benign.

Government evolved from arbitrary rulers and rules in to modern democracy. Government no longer kills everyone all the time, but just taxes people instead in a far more stable symbiotic relationship.

There are still random flare ups, just like Ebola: Occasionally governments (especially far away stupid governments) will randomly kill everyone like Venezuela or Syria in their own ways are doing today. But on average, they’ve evolved to exist with their citizens in benign partnership.

I’m not sure how much farther the analogy can be pushed, but it’s an entertaining thought experiment.

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