Telescope: Open-Sourced Framework for Social News Site

Just found a super cool resource while learning the Meteor Javascript Framework: Telescope.

Telescope is a set of boilerplate code that can be used to make a social news website like Hacker News or Reddit.  I haven't tried using the code yet, but the link I posted has a link the the github repo.

 I'm looking forward to trying it out as I make a kind of "reddit" or "hacker news" for open-source projects.  People will be able to upvote their favorite open source-projects, and they will be able to donate money to the original poster.  I don't think any resource like this exists yet.  If I am mistaken, please comment or contact me to let me know.  

Speaking of open-source projects, Telescope is an open source project.  If I download it and detect defects, then I will do my best to give back to the developers by isolating my improvements and submitting a "pull request" on github.  What a perfect framework on which to build a site precisely for these kinds of projects

If You're Curious About What the Next Technology Revolution Looks Like, Watch This Video On Neil Gershenfeld

 Neil Gershenfeld - One of the Fathers of the maker movement

Neil Gershenfeld - One of the Fathers of the maker movement

  (note, the link to the interview is a couple scrolls down the page)

This guy is one of the fathers of the maker movement, but like many fathers, he wishes the best for his offspring and urges them to be the best that they can be.  There’s two points he poses about the maker movement that I think are critical, and which I want to start working towards a solution on.

1 - Maker Movement is for Amateurs

It’s true.  While the maker space that I happen to work in has some of the brightest, most talented, creative people I’ve ever met, and a huge amount of these folks have degrees from MIT and experience working in top engineering and design firms like Ideo, most people are doing things that they don’t know how to do on projects intended for themselves or their own, very similar consulting firms (I admit to this as well).

While people are brought together by this radical self-reliance, to me it seems like there is a lot of talent being put more or less to waste because people are not always communicating their dream projects and desires to one another or inviting other people to take part.  

What’s related and perhaps more important, (and which Mr. Gershenfeld describes quite well), is that people who are coming to makerspaces and fab labs have an easy time getting the most rudimentary instruction from online tutorials and books, but finding the resources to take the next steps is much more difficult.  

One idea I had while watching that video was to build an online space where people can collaborate on projects from all over the world.  Something like instructables, except instead of organizing instructables by category, this would be organized by project.  Another model to follow would be ----(stand by, looking up the name of this company), a software company with an open layout and rolly chairs, where anyone can roll around the company and work on anything that they want to work on.  Instead of rolly chairs and an office, we have the internet and the whole world.

I want to build a web platform where, if you have a project that you want to start working on, you can start blogging about your project and trying to get people to follow, help, and contribute.  There will be a system where people can donate to or invest in your project if they think that it is a worthwhile project, and you will be able to distribute the funds that get donated or the revenues that you generate from your product to different followers.  There will be no requirement to distribute the funds though (because I think that places where the honors code works are the highest integrity places on earth).

People commonly say that the best way to learn how to make something is to make it.  So much of this maker stuff is situational.  There are plenty of “beginner tutorials” but there is really no space to follow a big open sourced project from beginning to end.  Or if there is, I’ve never heard of it.  

Ideally, some of these projects would be worthwhile and blossom into real world solutions and companies.

One more rule though:  there is a moderation and quality control problem on instructables and other similar websites.  In order to post a new project on GWA, you have to be sponsored by somebody who has already posted a project.  That’s is, you’ve got to convince someone else who has been approved to post a project to approve you to do this same.  This way, there is a sort of viral mentorship.  

2 - First Project Proposals

I'll start.

I already mentioned one about an improved Water Desalinator here.  Ideally, a really easy-to-make one that can be assembled from junk.  (To be discussed in another article--DIY research: researching how to make amazing things using waste or everyday materials).

But the project that I want to propose here, and which is directly related to Gershenfeld’s interview is this:  I want to make a 3D printer that assembles reusable modules for assembly rather than the part itself.  Pieces almost like legos.  You would essentially have to whip up a couple of 3D printers or other fabrication technologies that make these modules, then you’d want to have an assembler that can put these things together.  So this second 3D printer is more like a higher level programming language, whereas the 3D printers that we’ve got today would be more like a lower level language that runs the higher level one.  Think assembly language and javascrip--same kind of relationship

The reason that this idea stemmed directly from the Mr. Gershenfeld’s interview is that, in the video, Gershenfeld talks about how a lot of what we call digital fabrication is not actually digital.  While a 3D printer may be run by a computer, the thing that it prints is anything but digital.  It’s a spool that’s getting dragged out in an analog manner, and after the part has served it’s funtion, it get’s tossed.  

Real digital fabrication, Mr. Gershenfeld says involves assembling structures from discrete, reusable components.  The project that I am proposing would do just that.




 

The Four Hour Workweek is Brilliant, Misbranded, and Misunderstood

The picture on the cover of The 4 Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferris makes it look like this is a book for people who don’t want to work.  In reality, the book is a radical time management model and a strategy book for people who have more important things to do than think about money all the time, (which in my opinion, is everyone).

Quick Summary, in case you haven’t read it

The fundamental hypothesis is that most people spend most of their time at the office just putting in their hours and trying to make it look like they are working.  Only about 20 percent of what people do at work contributes any progress to the world (or the worker), and the other 80 percent is tragically wasted on busy-work and sad, meaningless tasks.

Mr. Ferris offers a 4-step plan to cut down the amount of time that one is working to just that 20 percent of the time that you are actually being effective.

Define

First, Mr. Ferris says that you need to define what you want to have, do, and be.  (For me, that involved going to burning man, being able to make anything, going to costa rica, buying a new computer, and buying some new clothes.  Once you have defined what you want to do, you estimate the costs for doing those things and divide those costs down to a “target daily income.”  Mine was a little over $200, which is insane.)

Mr. Ferris then gives some strategies on how to reduce the cost of getting the things you want and some advice on how to start and market a business that will generate a cashflow equal to or greater than (you hope) that target daily income.  More on his advice after this outline...

Eliminate

Mr. Ferris then spends the next couple of pages talking about strategies to eliminate the huge amounts of time that you waste everday.  For example, instead of checking your email all the time, you should only check it once in the morning and once in the evening.  You should try to batch other activities as well, because a large amount of time is spent transitioning between successive activities.  

Automate

One of the stranger recommendations in the book is that you should find a personal assistant or a team of them in India or Bangladesh who will work at $5 / hour to take care of the monotonous tasks of your work.  Eventually, you want to outsource everything.  

I’m pretty agnostic about this one, to be honest.  Since reading the book, I’ve been paying very close attention to what I am doing everyday, looking for things that are frustrating and which I can outsource.  I honestly haven’t found anything yet, which must be a good sign about my life I guess.  And am I hurting the world if I assign my mundane tasks to an some industrious person on the other side of the world who will do those tasks for next to nothing by US compensations standards? (Probably not, more on that below). 

Liberate

Once you’ve got your work automated, you need to step back and let the gears do their turning, so to speak.  Go do the things that you have always wanted to do and let the automated cash flow machine that you’ve set up continue generating money for you while you start the futuristic business that you’ve always wanted to start, go fight Ebola, write a book...

Presumptuous?

One thing that I want to talk about a little bit is the presumption that some people should be able to work a four hour week while having other people do the busy work for them.  It seems like doing this merely purveys the cycle that you are trying to escape.  

The tempting, and possibly tenable answer is: no, it is not presumptuous to have people do your drudgery so that you can pursue your dreams because most people are not yet in tune to the fact that you can be free.  Most people are groveling around looking for things to do in order to keep them busy, so keep them busy.  

However, for me at least, the notion that other people are picking up my slack is misleading.  This book is not about how to be a slacker; it’s about how to be a leader.  Other people are doing the things that you cannot be bothered with as you try to carry out your vision.  In reality, this is how any business works.  Even your more traditional startup--the visionary leader can’t be involved with figuring out what happened to the missing shipment, or with programming some simple user interface feature on a website.  The leader needs to value his or her time more than that in order to keep her eyes on the horizon.  

Your average startup, Ferris would argue, operates on the assumption that you’ve got to make a dent in the universe, and in order to make a dent in the universe, you’ve got to work all the time, 24/7 in a race other companies also competing for attention.  I think that a lot of great innovations happen for the world as a result of this race, but I also personally think that there is something insane about it all.

The kind of startup that Mr. Ferris explains how to start (in a rather pre-social-media nd generally out-dated way) is a little bit more modest.  It doesn’t assume you are going to change the world with this business.  It assumes that you are going to provide a much needed service to an underserved population for a fee.  (It’s daring to be traditional).

The ultimate goal is to make a “cash flow machine”.  And then, once you’ve got that going, it’s like the money question is not a problem in your life and you can go on to do some of the things that you want to do.

To me, that is what life is all about.  A lot of this “do the work you love” stuff is bullshit.  Start a small business in an industry that you know and love, of course, and by all means be conscious about what you are bringing into the world.  But, contrary to what the start-up culture that I am among would make me think, you are not defined by your work.

When asked what their dreams are, most people will say something that has to do with an accomplishment they would like to achieve at work.  Why?


What I want to do is live a happy life, and brighten the lives of those around me as much as I can.  When I die, I think that I will eventually disappear, and all of the energy that I have put into the world will blend into all of the other energy in the world.  What that means to me is that my dreams for myself suddenly come into focus and become important.

Brand New Scientific Revolution

A scientific revolution is coming.  In the near future, new technologies and paradigms are going to arise which drastically democratize scientific research.  The range and volume of people who are able to contribute is going to expand massively, because more and more research is going to be open sourced, crowd-generated, and crowd-funded.  Goodword Alchemy seeks to contribute to and promote this movement

New Technologies Will Usher in the Future of Science

crowdfunding and crowdsourcing technologies.  

A resource like the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation disseminates huge amounts of money and motivation for their challenges. What if there was a way to democratize challenges like this (not that B + M’s challenges don’t serve the people).  As in, what if there was something like kickstarter where the masses could crowdfund critical scientific research or new inventions?

To some extent, this already exists: Experiment.com answers my call pretty directly.  Quirky, is a website where people can submit invention ideas, vote on ideas, and have the best ones made.  Ideaken is a resource for crowdsourced research and development.

Instructables is a great website with user-generated project instructions.

Then of course, there already exist crowd-labor platforms like threadless, or my personal favorite: fold.it, a game where places try to fold proteins in their lowest-energy conformations.  the game has been more successful at solving protein structure than any computational method to date.

The wealth of resources like this is spreading, but it does not yet compete with regular methods of funding like government research grants, and it does not yet generate the quality of material that peer-edited journals offer.  This is changing though.  Nature publishing group recently granted open access to some of its articles.  And Tesla has open-sourced all of its patents in hopes of ushering in exactly the kind of scientific revolution that I am about to start trumping.

(By the way--and I don’t condone this at all--by far the most the most successful arena for collective, crowd-sourced scientific research has been in illegal drug research and synthesis)

Fabrication technologies will lead to Research technologies.

In this TEDtalk, Neil Gershenfeld talks about a digital revolution in fabrication technologies, and how that allows for personal fabrication.  This revolution explains another reason why scientific research is likely to radically change in the next couple of years; anyone is going to be able to to it, anywhere.  

I built a pH meter from an Arduino.  Seriously.  It worked pretty well, and it cost about 1/10th of what a professional laboratory grade pH meter would cost.  I think that the digital fabrication revolution Prof. Gershenfeld described in his TEDtalk is going to allow for micro-laboratories as well.  If we play our cards right, there could even be a sort of sharing economy for scientific research, where research firms pay to have labor-intensive experiments done in people’s houses and improvised labs.

Collaboration

The main reason that I want to promote this current in the sciences is that I think scientific research will be more democratic, more collaborative, and more efficient.

Democracy

A resource like Stack Exchange, whcih allows users to ask questions, give answers and vote on questions and answers (more votes → more visibility), is the shining example.  Not only do millions of people all over the world participate in the programming/computer-based question and answer forums, but they are starting up forums on everything from Arduino to cooking.  The first thing that is particularly remarkable about this site is that you can usually get a handful of answers to any question you get in a matter of minutes.  It is an extremely-active forum.  But more importantly, the model for moderation on the site is that people who contribute the best content--ask the best questions and give the best answers--get more visibility and have more responsibility to moderate the site.  Could Stack Exchange reputation be the future form of authority in the sciences?  Having 10K reputation and 100 gold badges could be like having a PhD in the world of open/crowdsourced science.

What I mean to highlight with my approbation of Stack Exchange is that this is the beginning of a completely democratic framework for collectively solving problems and seeking answers to big questions.  

GitHub, which allows people to store code and publish code for collaboration, will be my flagship example of a technology that allows scientific collaboration.  While it is currently limited to programming projects, the time is nigh when a technology will exist for doing the same with experiment data.

My relatively unresearched hypothesis is that most scientific research goes to waste because people spend their time working on the same projects without communicating with one another.  Why should the research I am doing on platinum catalysis in my lab be separate from the same research that you are doing in yours?  Scientists should be working in a global laboratory, sharing data and ideas with everyone who is working on the same ideas.  In my opinion, the scientific journal system needs to be completely disrupted by some internet technology in order for this collaboration to happen.  But when it does, scientific research is going to get exponentially more efficient.

Efficiency

Again, this is a pretty unresearched hypothesis (give me a break, this is one of my first blog posts on the topic), but I don’t think that pharmaceutical companies are really working to cure cancer or anything for that matter.  I think they are working to sell drugs, and I think that they are often racing against one another to make the same drugs.  I think this is a really crappy and inefficient way to cure diseases.  When critical drug research and manufacturing can go down on a global, collaborative scale, prices of drugs are going to be much cheaper, and the rate of progress is going to massively accelerate.

Cons

The pillars of Scientific Authority are going to be revised, and the organizational structures in which research is performed are going to change.  Standards for evidence and method are going to be much harder to determine.  As far as I can tell, these are the biggest and most important challenges.  Scientists may have a harder time funding very-esoteric research; it will be considered almost avant-garde.  No problem; that will be the province for traditional types of funding.