Of Frameworks And Religion

In Uncategorized on August 7, 2014 at 12:42 pm

Frameworks and religion share these aspects:

  1. Religion/Frameworks are both illusory attempts to find simplicity and idealism in an inherently complex and  imperfect environment.
  2. A rational examination of the origins of –and reasons for– religion/frameworks, as well as the benefits and disadvantages of religion/frameworks, is unlikely to change the mind of anyone who is afraid to examine these concepts objectively.
  3. Even some bright people may feel too frightened to face the challenges they have without the guidance of a framework/religion. Their upbringing has imbued in them the belief that it is safer not to subject the ideas that happen to be en vogue to close scrutiny. Furthermore, becoming an agnostic or a disbeliever can cut one off from the comfort and companionship of co-believers. This potentially damaging consequence of doubting a popular belief system is a strong deterrent to questioning deeply flawed concepts.
  4. People/Developers tend to associate in communities of other like-minded people. Believers typically restrict their social circle to other believers. They surround themselves with mirror images of themselves. So, the believer in a religion/framework asks, “How can they not believe as I believe? The believing community/cult usually provides a convenient answer to that question: The non-believers are ignorant or they do not get it. If you hang around them enough it might lead you astray. As a result, the believer in a religion/framework becomes paranoid and afraid of the non-believers, because he fails to understand that non-believers do not need to believe in anything. Non-believers rely on reason, logic and the factual evidence. Instead, the believer, when it comes to their choice of association, sees non-believers as undesirable. Thus, belief in a religion/framework maintains itself through self-affirmation, insulation and exclusion of others who don’t have the same views/beliefs.
  5. Frameworks/religions divide us.

Having stated that, frameworks/religion can also help unify us. But unlike religion, frameworks, especially UI frameworks, tend to come and go at a relatively rapid pace, so developers are learning to look for deep principles beneath the surface, where the rate of change is much more bearable.

The meta argument is that it’s really hard to reduce complex ideas like religion and frameworks to either good or bad. So we have to be pragmatic in how we approach technology, focusing on the deeper principles at play rather than the particular framework.


Why Bitcoin is Volatile aka I Told You So.

In Uncategorized on December 1, 2013 at 4:52 pm

Bitcoin is based on the idea that money gets its intrinsic value from its scarcity, which is somewhat of a misconception if that’s the only thing you take into consideration. Ultimately, money gets its value from the flow of goods and services that use it (that is the “flow network” view of the value of currency.)

Selling people on the misconceived notion that Bitcoin has real value because of its scarcity seems to have worked so far, but when people wake up and ask what they can buy with their Bitcoins and find the answer to be very limited they’ll likely lose interest in holding on to those Bitcoins. It doesn’t matter how scarce those Bitcoins are: if they’re not widely accepted in trade, after the speculative bubble bursts, they won’t have much value.

The built-in scarcity makes it so that speculative action can lead to huge swings in currency value, i.e. massive instability over time. If supply always caught up to demand then speculation would be a rational process more or less based on real-world transaction volume as opposed to swinging between “OMG  I gotta get some Bitcoins while there are some available at a still-favorable price” and “OMG Bitcoin adoption is slowing down and I gotta get rid of mine before I incur huge losses.” It’s very finicky.

In order to be less exposed to speculative bubbles, the intrinsic value of a currency must be decoupled from its supply/demand (in other words, supply must catch up to demand, and oversupply only happens if people stop using the currency, i.e. when you have a drop in volume of real world transactions) and the value must be based on the volume of real-world transactions.

We invented Fire. Next, we have to control it.


China bans its banks from transacting in Bitcoin thus causing an initial 20% drop in the price of Bitcoin. Here is an interesting passage from the Bloomberg article that reflects many of the opinions I expressed above just a few days before the events in China unfolded.


The People’s Bank of China said financial institutions and payment companies can’t give pricing in Bitcoin, buy and sell the virtual currency or insure Bitcoin-linked products, according to a statement on the central bank’s website.

PBOC, China Banking Regulatory Commission and other regulators have held discussions about drafting rules for trading platforms that facilitate the buying and selling of the virtual money, two people with direct knowledge of the matter said. They were not authorized to speak because the information is not public.

“We’re happy to see the government start regulating the Bitcoin exchanges,” Chief Executive Officer Bobby Lee of BTC China, the largest Bitcoin exchange in the country, said in a phone interview before the PBOC announcement. Regulations would be for “the good of the consumer,” he said. BTC is seeking recognition of the currency so it can be used to buy goods and services instead of being used for speculation, he said.


This post got plenty of traffic thanks to Hacker News, and in there, someone mentioned that, a few years back, Satoshi Nakamoto, the illusive inventor of Bitcoin, had mentioned my work on P2P Social Currency as being something that can ride atop the Bitcoin protocol. I have my doubts.



On the Importance of Pre-Attentive Cues in Data Visualization

In Uncategorized on April 15, 2013 at 2:26 pm

The way data enters the mind, whether in a completely idle form or a highly energetic, animated form, influences how we relate to it. The initial moment of meeting between an object and an observer is the pre-attentive phase. The animal part of our brain looks for visual cues from the object to determine the initial visceral response to the stimulus.

One of the most crucial moment in the relating between the object and us, is the moment before our rational mind is engaged.. This is just as true in visualizing data as it is in interaction with everything around us. However, for reasons to do with the limitation of the print medium this crucial pre-attentive phase was up till recently largely ignored in the science and practice of data visualization. The neglect of the pre-attentive cues actually continued into the internet age, mainly due to the lack of refined tools for presenting data, but also because the emphasis on the purely rational and practical in our culture, which is finally beginning to give room to the cognitive science of relating.

It’s not just how something works that determines our relationship to it but also how it enters our mind upon first meeting it: is it a rigid and fixed form, basically mechanical and non-fluid, or an interaction that carries as much pre-attentive information as when meeting someone for the first time?

In the print scenario of data visualization, we experience contact with a rigid form that we then have to analyze and understand from a static starting point. Whereas on the web, the data can engage our mind in a pre-attentive dance with possibility, and the more graceful and well choreographed the dance is the more animated we feel about the data. That is the true meaning of relating. And we can think of data visualization as poetry in motion, with each word or piece of data entering our mind in harmony or artful juxtaposition with the others, and becoming meaningful in the pre-attentive phase of discovery prior to being rationally interacted. It’s that first visceral reaction to the experience of seeing data that makes it memorable and sticky in our mind. But in the end it is about paying roughly equal attention to the pre-attentive and the cognitive phases of realization that will create a pleasant and effectual experience for the user.

I’ve taken this somewhat fantasized theory of engagement and we’re building our data visualization with focus on both the irrational and rational (or pre-attentive and analytical phases) and the initial result have gotten strong favorable reactions from our users. Below is a video we’ve made of the first attempt: