I’m really excited to be starting my Master’s in Professional Studies program at New York University for the Interactive Telecommunications Program in August. In a way, it’s a true culmination of all the things I’ve been doing on my own OUTSIDE of school for so long. BBS‘ing and Sierra Networking in high school, telnetting and MUDding and daytrading and webdesigning in college, blogging and searching in the Army, coding a bit at Georgetown. Not really finding folks who found value in doing anything technical in any of those tribes.
I don’t know how this program will end up, but given that it’s throwing people headfirst into Arduino circuitboards, coding, hacking, social media remixing, designing, creating…I’m hoping to find peers who love to experiment and play and make.
Having seen various sectors of the American economy while living in CA/DC/TN/TX/IZ, particularly the knowledge economy, what I’ve been struck by most has been the lack of technical knowledge. People know their tiny sliver of the world, such as collateralized debt obligations, US-Pakistan policy, aid packages, writing reports…but anything broader than that knowledge is usually treading on very delicate ground. Even in some of the more technical areas I’ve worked in (military intel, social media, innovation projects), there is literally no knowledge of or curiosity for experimentation or remixing.
When I see people who don’t tweet or blog or have much of a presence online, particularly when they claim to be pretty digitally savvy, it makes me wonder. Twitter is all about remixing ideas, combining cultures and taboos and tribes. It’s a swirl of information waiting to produce the next memes or companies or news or collaborative one-offs. To me, not only is this environment fascinating, versatile, and by its nature educational, it also is a cauldron for the next generation of successful projects and people. It’s a testing ground for future successful workers. How can you compete in the working environment if you can’t keep up digitally? I understand if you don’t like computers or the internet, but it’s your own livelihood.
About a year ago, before I applied or even knew what I was going to do, I quit my job for 2.5 months. I got to enjoy the DC summer, but mainly I was coding full-time for my personal project, Galapag.us, having no clue where it would go or how it would ever be more than just a dumb idea. But I was super-frustrated with where my career was going. I wanted to build, to create, to do more with my hands. I think I called several family members and friends looking for advice. I ended up applying for ITP (and nowhere else), shelving Galapag.us for a bit, and returning to work. In April I found out I got in.
The way I see it, heading to NYC, the most creative, diverse, urban, and pragmatic city in the world (I’d argue), to finally be a true geek, I can only see this as a huge personal victory, a huge opportunity to be myself and to create a lot of great things that are useful to a lot of people.
And since I’m older this time around, and have an international development/international affairs Master’s under my belt from the best IR school in the world, this time I know I should have a plan of attack.
Galapag.us is what I’d like to be my life’s work. It’s what I want to be known for. An open reputation system providing alternative forms of credit and trust, verified through a balance of different interests, using all your life’s data to compute what kind of person you are.
I want my projects to all work on some aspect of Galapag.us, to test its weaknesses and experiment with what it could eventually look like or become.
Prototype Glasses with Visual Augmentation for Reputation
To that end, I want to build the glasses used in Daniel Suarez’s Daemon and Freedom (TM). Regular-looking glasses that you put on, plugging you into digital layers that show reputational score layers next to someone’s image, route planning towards your next objective, visuals of your level and trade (Level 19 Farmer, Level 3 Government Analyst, etc.) and others, digital inventories you can use with real-world objects, etc. Augmented reality is being worked on at the platform level, but I’d like to build a functional prototype of some sort (PDF).
Prototype Location-Aware RFID Organizer Bins and Objects
Cory Doctorow’s Makers had his two tinkerers create a cheap and easy tech that consisted of RFID chips in containers and on objects, so that when you needed to locate something in your closet, you could call it up and the container it was in would glow for you so you could find it faster. RFID and its intermixing with IPv6, linked data, and object reputation will lead to greater connectedness between the digital and real world, and will enhance our ability to interact with the real by mapping the computational digital world onto it. It’s pretty kludgy the way we look at a real-world object (a book) and then google or amazon it online.
We have already reached textual literacy on the internet. To the extent that we can remix and reuse text without violating the horrible, innovation-choking copyright laws that currently exist, we’re actually pretty good at finding, searching, and sharing text. With bandwidth and storage and access increasing for video, we will need to reach video literacy next. I already know that my posting a video will have far fewer hits than if I post just text. Many people don’t want to watch a long video, or are at work and are blocked from YouTube. But once a video goes viral, it has far more of an impact. I would like to capture some sort of Marshall McLuhanesque understanding of video and get smart on video, Final Cut Pro, AfterEffects. Video editing I see similar to web design — it’s a way to create and express your own view of the world without relying on others to make it for you. And now that video is social and allows for feedback, through perhaps the most important tech given to us after the dotcom revolution besides Google (no, not Twitter or Facebook), YouTube:
Instead of being a guy on his night out at the club, I always wanted to own the club, or be playing the music for the club. While I have no musical ability, I think I’ve at least accumulated enough knowledge from a broad enough swath of songs to be able to start mixing them together. The tools for music creation, however, are somewhat arcane. I want to get more comfortable with it. Out of my straight-laced DC policy/analyst friends, I have seen their better parts/personalities emerge only when drunk and on the dance floor. That is the power of music and communitas with alcohol and Cee Lo Green-revealed magic of Friday and Saturday night.
I have a few other projects I want to prototype.
ProbablyGonna. DC culture consists of a bunch of people who live in the District and want to go to happy hours/networking events EVERY NIGHT. I came to DC and went immediately to Georgetown, so I had a built-in group of friends to hang with. I have a feeling people in DC have a bunch of different circles and tribes they hang with, so the best way to meet up is not necessarily blast e-mails or FourSquare checkins. What might work best is you signaling your intent to go out on certain nights on the calendar. Say you want to have a night of clubbing on Friday night, until late, and maybe you want to do Adams Morgan. You signal that on ProbablyGonna (as in, I’m probably gonna do this on Friday), and anyone else connected with you can signal their intent to do the same. It’s not mutually exclusive to other events, so you could signal for multiple events. This solves the FourSquare problem of knowing someone is at a location after they’re there, or in most cases, long after they’ve left.
Men’s tailoring. Most men do not know how to dress. They certainly don’t own the essentials, the basics, for different social events. What if you go to a site, select that you want a “business casual” outfit for work, enter your rough dimensions, and order a pretty basic outfit of a suit, shirt, starter tie, socks, shoes, underwear, belt, cufflinks, watch? Then that kit either goes to a local tailor working with my company, or it goes to you and you schedule your time with the tailor later. The tailor establishes a personal relationship with you and zeroes in your dimensions for the clothing. The tailor then mends your kit, and gives you a business casual basic outfit that actually fits you, flatters your shape, and is worth far more than a regular tailoring job. The best part? Over time, your purchases get better. Different outfits (going out Friday, wedding, weekend wear) go straight to the tailor, who tailors your kit, then gives it over to you. It helps you dress far better for your body shape, it helps the tailor develop clients, it helps my company move product. Then I can also sell you your pieces of personality, usually in the tie, the socks, shoes, kerchief, etc.
Reputation badges for your outfits: piggy-backing on Galapag.us. You unlock badges that you wear on your clothing or bags when you go out. They have QR codes or some other unique form of code (e.g. Itizen TRACKit). Say you’re an excellent wingman and have saved three mates. You get a wingman badge with two oakleaf clusters. Or you know CPR. You get a CPR tab (designates a skill, not an accomplishment). Designated driver? Badge. This mirrors the military uniform system of achievements. Clothing subconsciously is used to denote class, personality, and tribal association, but we’ve lost individuation and accomplishment that Papua New Guinea and Maori and other tribes used tattoos for, or Roman colors for their togas. I want to bring that back. Using Galapag.us’s reputation system as the backend and standardization platform.
So in short I want to play with things. I don’t expect to get good at any one thing. I’m not sure I will be very good at 3D printing or laser cutting or making actual models of things, having no prior design background, but I’ll give it a shot.
Setting the Tone
Those are the actual products. Mostly what I want to do is create things that are useful and happy. Two of the biggest problems among Internet-Americans is that they 1) have no clue how to make tech that benefits the poor, weak, and under-represented, and 2) they get too cynical or unhappy. Fortunately NYC is taking on the personality of a digital city, thanks to Mayor Bloomberg and his efforts to push the city online, including appointing a Chief Digital Officer, Rachel Sterne. As for me, I’ve realized how happiness and laughter and fun make more of a difference in peoples’ everyday lives than being sarcastic, sardonic, cynical, pessimistic, or mean. While I’m sarcastic and dark in my humor, I want to try being happy. I want to make peoples’ lives better and happier. I want to stay away from the easy, which is being critical, doubtful, and resentful, while at the same time being pragmatic, useful, and iconoclastic.
So that’s what I want out of the next two years. Hold me accountable to it.