The Trouble with Doing Good

Thinking about the topic of money, I realized there is a terrible hole in the way that our economic system is designed. In our society, it is generally required that one must earn a living. You need to pay for food, rent and other necessities. A source of income is simply something that you must have.

In general, to get money, you provide a good or service to another person and they trade you for money.

Suppose someone were to go out and do something good.  Like plant trees in a place where all of the biologists agreed that they were needed.

The trees would undoubted make the land richer.

Other people might be willing to give charity to the tree planter.  But that depends on so many factors.  What if the surround area had little money, or there were no people nearby?

In such a situation, it would be irrational for any person to become the tree planter.  It might still happen. People are good.  But it makes no sense economically.

Is there a way to provide the tree planter with money?

Money is ephemeral, it comes from nowhere.  The banking void from which money is brought into existence is no-place.

So could the tree planter be paid?  From nowhere in particular, with money that is suddenly said to exist?

I suspect that there could be a way for that to work.  For good work to be paid for by no one in particular.  I am not yet ready to write about how that could work.


Digital 3d Sculpture

Finally, it finally feels like art is possible in 3d on the computer.  Sure I've made 3d films on the computer.  But the real feeling of making art is hard to achieve digitally.  The tools are always getting in the way.  Drawing is getting pretty good digitally.

But 3d has always been a really difficult problem to crack.  There is so much technical thought that goes into creating the 3d that it is difficult to get into a real flow.

But a new version of the program Z-Brush has really brought 3d into the realm of art.  I was able to bring my windows tablet computer into an art gallery today do 3d sketches of the sculptures right there in the gallery.

The process is a lot like working with real clay. In previous versions of 3d sculpting, anything that felt like 3d clay only felt like 3d clay for a few moments.  It would quickly distort and turn into polygons again.  A new feature of Z-Brush called Dynamesh allows you to overcome this barrier whenever it feels like it is about to impede your progress.

I am still working how to sculpt in the computer, and the type of work flows that I should be using, so the results still are not spot on, but it is just like drawing, in that I will need to do it a lot to get good.

It is really weird compared to life drawing in that it needs to be right from all angles.  This was one of the first times that I actually felt like a 3d display would have been immensely useful to me.



I was at a newstand and all it took was a brief flash of the words "Crypto-Currency" out of the corner of my eye to get me to buy a magazine.

The words just melded into an interesting story in my head about what it could mean for money.  I've written about money before.  It is definitely one of the most interesting aspects of our society.  It's like a weird sort of magic.  Sure we have batteries that you can charge up and store power in, but with money, you can store it up and than do anything you want with it.

You can look at a gorge and think, I really wish there were a dam and a lake here.  And after a few years and a few billion dollars, it could be done.

You can think " I want to be in Japan", and with a few clicks of your mouse, and a few numbers entered into websites, you can be Japan.  You could do it without needing to talk with anyone.  And you could probably do it today... maybe you would have to wait until tomorrow.

Or if you have enough money, you could buy all the advertisement space in a whole subway system.  And put a picture of yourself everywhere with your name.  And than everybody in the city might know your name.

Sure you need a bit pile of money to do all the things I've just talked about, but the point is that it can be done.

So money is magical, but currently it's origin is ugly.  The short story of where money comes from is that the government ( or treasury (or central bank))  just say that it exists, and numbers change in computers, and money gets printed.  There is no elegance or beauty to it.

But here we are faced with something called Bitcoins.  And the special thing I find about Bitcoins is that their creation, and the system that they are used in, are all elegantly intertwined in such a way that their value is held up by math and morality.

I won't attempt to explain exactly how bitcoins work.  A simple search, or reading the article linked above will provide a better outline than I can write myself.

I'm thinking about the implications of this currency, about how it would spread and what that would be like.  Could this be the global currency that everyone will flock to.  In what realm of regulation does a currency like this exist it.  It has no central creator.  Is it something good, or is it something dangerous.  Will it hurt people or will it help people.  Is it better than what we have know, the same, or worse.

Should we be trying it?

Economics seems like a field where there is never a consensus.  It isn't really a science. It works with what people think has value.  What people think changes from day to day.

The feeling I get from Bitcoin is that it is such a huge and confusing step in the monetary system that regular people would have an exceedingly difficult time accepting it.

But the other feeling I get is that it is something that won't be destroyed, and that it will last as long as it has a purpose.  It feels like an organization was created out of the programming of bitcoin that has no head and can't be destroy.  In the same way that all companies have a value attributed to them by the market, Bitcoin too has value invested into it by all the people who thought that it was a good idea, and are able to see the logic and reason that lie in it's code.

Thinking about it now, Bitcoin is just a bit of code that runs on computers all around the world.  And all by itself, this code is running the equivalent of a monetary system.  It spreads because it is a good idea.

Now suppose that instead of just handling money, suppose that a system such as Bitcoin could handle our democracy.

I've never been relaxed with the idea of a true democracy because I don't think there has ever been one.  New things are scary.  Sure we have "democracy", but there are so many layers between what people actually vote, and what happens that it isn't scary. We have leaders who try to take care of us.  I get the feeling that real democracy is scary.

In a real democracy there is a good chance that you won't know how to spread a message and get your voice heard, so no one will hear you.  Majorities can be scary.

But getting back to the Bitcoin as democracy, suppose that suddenly a program popped up that allowed everyone on earth to vote for what they wanted.  Lets assume that it would include advanced biometric data recognition to ensure that each person was only given one vote ( in exactly the same way that you can only spend a bitcoin once).  And that their votes were anonymous, in the same way that Bitcoins are anonymous.

If this program were to spread, the question of what people actually wanted would be answered. How could a government argue with democracy like that.

I guess, I just wrote a post about the Occupy movement, and suddenly I have an idea for something that actually makes sense to me, something that feels like the next step.

Now my problem is that I feel like the ideas are so big that no one would believe me or care to listen.


The Occupation Movement

It feels like a lot of stuff is happening in the world right now.

Big important stuff, and it is easy to feel in awe and very small compared to the stuff that is going.

There is a movement brewing.  The OccupyINSERTPLACENAMEHERE movement is gathering momentum.  The american version, that started in New York didn't make sense to me for the first few weeks that it was going on.

Every idea I heard about the movement at the beginning was about different things. First it was about the financial crisis, and than about the environment, and than about politics, or the prison system.  And than suddenly the point of the protest shifted.  All of those ideas became the result of something else.  The financial crisis, the environmental disasters, and the terrible political system in america were all the result of collusion between the biggests corporations in america and the government.  Everybody was noticing different problems, and than suddenly the whole puzzle fit together.  There was probably one big problem that resulted in all sorts of different little problems.

The method of protest spread.  There was a brand.  You can occupy any place.  Every place has problems.  Everywhere you can find a reason to occupy.

America's problem is big and obvious.  And it's problems reach all around the world into every other country near and far.

In Canada, I have trouble feeling the same urge to occupy somewhere.  Especially in my particular life, at this particular moment, I don't feel burdened by the weight of society.  I hear the news, I read the news.  But I don't often see, with my own eyes, the problems that are being discussed.  And I really don't live the problems that other people have.

I walked by the site of the occupation in Montreal, and I didn't feel any real connection to the issues.  I saw one large printed poster, and it seemed like it was a graph of everything about being a human.  There is so much noise right now that I can't pick up a signal that resonates with me.

Maybe in a few weeks some chord will be struck just the right way in Canada that will get me to act differently.

Cuba - Havana and Varadero

While I was in Cuba I could feel the differences caused by the revolution.  It's easy to read about a society, about communism, or socialism, or facism and understand how they are different, but it is a different experience entirely to visit a country and feel the differences in so many little ways.

On our first taxi ride, between the Varadero airport and Havana I kept noticing how the electrical poles that ran along the high way were not just different from canadian ones, they kept changing as we moved through the country.  Standard wood poles, than twisted wood poles and finally crumbling reinforced concrete.

And some of the insulators were clear glass.

After the revolution there were a lot of problems in Cuba, and seeing all the attempts at solutions made it feel like they were more willing to try things, to at least give them a chance.

Take for example their traffic lights, many of them are equipped with count-downs that let drivers know how long they have till a red light, or how long they have till a green light.  It feels like the decision to use such lights would have to be made in a place where change was acceptable, where you are allowed to try something new because it will probably make things better.

I get the feeling that most of the time, in countries that haven't been radically disturbed by revolution, there is simply no allowance for new good ideas.  Things are generally good enough, and the possibility that something "might" make things better is not enough of a reason to upset the balance of life.

There are definitely examples of how this type of decision making can make life more confusing.  Because of the confusing financial situation of Cuba, cut off from the US and in some ways the rest of the world, they have two types of money: money for the tourist and money for the people. It's a system that makes the country feel segregated.  It makes life more complicated and inefficient, they have four separate types of pay phones.  They have roughly four different types of taxis and probably five different types of buses.

In any case, people are always adaptable.  They find a way to live in the system.  There was very little advertising or signage in the country.  To fill this void, the streets in tourist areas are filled with jineteros, people trying to get you to come to their families restaurant,and or to buy their cigars, or take their taxis.

Coming to Cuba as a tourist makes you feel like a member of high society in a segregated place. Your allowed into hotels when the general population isn't.  Your being constantly asked for your money in any number of ways. And your money feels like it has more power than it did back home.

If you are reading this blog, which would be hard and expensive to do from Cuba, than you probably are part of world that has a higher standard of living than the rest, you have benefits and exclusive rights to things that other people could only dream of.

When you travel, and get right up close to different places, the contrast in society becomes much clearer.

For more pictures of our trip visit this album.
Cuba 2011 - Havana and Varadero

I didn't feel like what I wanted to say about Cuba had much to do with the specifics of our trip.  We saw a lot of sights, and had fun on the beach.  We saw a show at the Tropicana and explored Havana.  We stayed at Casa Particulars, the equivalent of family run bed and breakfasts.  They were fantastic.