Square and the Future of Commerce

So, I wrote this science fiction story in 1994. I’m not going to post it because it wasn’t very good. But in it, the idea of “home” was more or less abolished for most people. Homelessness was de rigeur (they’re called “HoPers” in the euphemism of the day) because most of what people needed — their money, their entertainment, their work, their communication — was wholly mobile. Everyone else was just too poor to have a home (with some notable exceptions, like the biohackers who grew trees to live in). The protagonist, such as he was, wandered around the countryside of the US with this beat-up gadget in his pocket that connected him to other people. There’s a point in the story where someone pays him to hack a computer system and pays him by rubbing their gadgets together to transfer credit.

The gadget was the iPhone. Earlier smartphones (I’ve got a Treo) don’t really do it. They’re little computers that communicate, sure, but they don’t actually integrate into daily life well. The iPhone does, and I’m hoping Android gives it a good run to stop their bullshit.

But, like it or not, an important thing about modern society is the ability to trade money for goods and services. PayPal’s iPhone app is a joke. For some reason, it didn’t occur to them that people might want to use it to get paid for things.

When I heard about Square, probably a year ago, I jumped. This is just that thing! This means that you can pay for things in ways aside from cash when you’re in person. It’s not embedded in a particular object (I suspect that will come when computation and sensors are cheap enough that you can actually embed it in the cards themselves), but it fulfills that function.

Square found itself in a patent fight with its own hardware designer for months, which is sad. They look to have done some excellent information and object design, and I was worried that their creation would never reach the market. But now it has.

Now, my friends consider it ironic that I was so excited about the prospect of such gadgets all my life, but don’t own an iPhone or iPad. The great irony is that I don’t have the money right now. But expect to see me taking credit cards at my next selling-con.

Look Out Everybody! Here Comes the Future!

Fast Company has just posted the kind of panic article I ain’t seen since, oh, Jack Dempsey’s article, “I Can Whip Any Mechanical Robot“. It refers to Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, even. And the company that they’re freeeeakin’ out about? Frog Design. The guys who designed the Macintosh. (And the Frollerskate.)

The article also misses some important technical aspects: the dating thing is just like current online dating, only you’re actually there with the person. The fast food example doesn’t need to tell anyone but you the information — the only public information is the nutritional value of the food. That’s an input-only situation. And the jacket-oggling situation both works against the market failure of capitalism by giving more perfect information to the consumer and keeps the wearer unperturbed. And all the computer’s doing is recognizing where the consumer can get the jacket, not where the wearer got it, or how much she paid, or what color underwear she’s got on under it.

The article closes by somehow relating this AR, data-rich environment to HAL 9000. The issue with HAL, if you’ll recall, was not that the computer had too much information about everybody. It’s that he was in the service of insanely sui/genocidal plutocratic idealogues. To be sure, there are privacy concerns. But my biggest privacy concerns are about those with power who don’t share. Not the people around us who do.

If you want to see Frog’s original post without the freakouts, it’s over here.

Also, it just occurred to me: this is how Academics see the world(s). Whuffies and all.

This Is the End of Publishing


Very clever.

Now, what I’d really like to see is a total, anarchic proliferation of publishing. Who’s with me?



I’m an avid follower of development of the HYBRID Tri-Stat RPG. Matthew/C++/C#/CWhat moved the rules over to Blogspot a couple of years ago from Philippe Tromeur’s site, but that’s not news. What is news is that he’s started development of the game all over from scratch.

That is, Matthew/C++/C#/CWhat has deleted the hundreds of rules already in existence and started composing his Magnum Opus, his System of the World, his Philosopher’s Stone, from scratch, one rule at a time.

I hope you’ll enjoy following its development as much as I’ve been.

Building an Electronic Drum Kit, Version 2

Building An Electronic Drum Kit

I’ve been setting myself up with an electronic music studio in the basement built around some old gear. This project will include some found sound materials both from the freesound project and from me walking around with my iPod and a recorder dingus. I want to use not only ambient street sounds, but also percussive ones that might be good for drums, so I need some sort of drum controller. And here I am.

I’m using an Ensoniq SD-1 as a keyboard and Garage Band as a sequencer. I’m using PolyPhontics to assign notes to the pads, rather than fucking around with the 90s-vintage controls. I’m also not using any of the remarkably awful sounds these old synths come with.

Eventually, there will be music!

Stroking the Data

This is a really interesting interface that truly hides behind the objects in your environment. This could solve the problem of losing the remote control forever!

Now I’m thinking about embedding a bluetooth headset with a solar panel into a tree. You could control outdoor lighting by tapping and rubbing the tree. Or a coffee table that controls the stereo.

With three microphones, you could probably detect direction, too, which means that you could make more complex gestures (dim the lights by stroking down the wall or bring them back up by stroking up.)

Eyes in the Night, Delivered To Your Doorstep

Beowulf. An epic game by Joshua A.C. Newman

Beowulf is off to press on the morrow! I’m doing a very limited run, Ashcan-style, so if you want to read the poem, consider the exegesis, play the game, and give me feedback, this is your chance!

I’m selling it for $14+$5 S&H, or just regular $14 at Gen Con. Since the run is limited, I’ll be selling the remainder at Gen Con that I haven’t sold via my own site, so if you want to make sure you have a copy, preorder and I’ll shoot it off to you as soon as they get to my doorstep. If you want to wait until Gen Con, you can, but I’ve had a few people interested in preorders already, so you take your chances with the Wyrd.

Even better than picking up a copy at the Playcollective or Ashcan Front booths, order one from me, play with your friends, play with me at Gen Con, and give me feedback that will both be fun to generate and help produce a great final book.

It’s 244 pages long, 5″ x 8″, and I’ve made uglier things in my life.

Order Beowulf (sold out. Please give feedback!)

Does Whatever a Spider Like

Spider bike, spider bike! Does whatever a spider like!

Dig that crazy shit. This frame has so little material, you can see through the spaces of its geodesic structure. It’s woven by hand for now, but they’re apparently developing a manufacturing technique (good luck, guys) that will allow mass production. Thanks, Evan, for the C|Net article that linked to this, though I’m not going to link back to it because it makes a stupid claim that this kind of frame is more aerodynamic that a smooth one. The aerodynamics of this are awful. But that’s not what mountain biking’s about anyway.

We’re going to see more and more airy engineering over the coming years, I think. In the 19th century, we discovered that using webs of steel instead of stacks of stones was an effective way to build. Carbon fiber — a fabric — is replacing steel with great frequency as a material of choice. I think that represents a general trend: using less material, configured cleverly, to satisfy our requirements.

Now, if we could just get our government to stop waging perpetual war and thereby sucking up all the carbon fiber…