Monday, July 27, 2015

Village Clan Tribe

The anonymous nature of the Internet is one of the things that makes Internet security difficult to get right. The anonymous nature of modern daily life affects real life security too. Consider the way loners can accumulate weaponry and then cause a sudden massacre. But the following proposal isn’t intended to address these issues. It’s just meant to be fun. It is also meant to allow experiments with social structure on the Internet that may help with practical concerns in the future.
The idea is to get people to self-organize into a hierarchy and let the participants try using that for various social purposes. The levels of the hierarchy are: Village, Clan, Tribe, Nation, Empire.
Participants join some Village that will take them, or they get together with others to create one. A Village has from 64 to 128 people, at most ⅔ of one sex. The only rule is that every member must have a face to face brief meeting, perhaps in a small group, either live or by video link, with more than half the other members of the Village on some regular basis (and covering every other member on some longer time scale). The intention is that everyone knows everyone else, and a little bit about them. Belonging to more than one Village is not allowed but is not necessarily detectable.
Once there are 32 Villages then every Village belongs to a Clan. A Clan has 32 to 64 Villages. Once there are 32 Clans they belong to a Tribe. And so on upwards, but it can’t go much further.
What things the Village may do is to be decided democratically, and then by representative democracy in the Clan. Every Village appoints 2 representatives to the Clan, not the same sex. These then are in contact with other representatives on a regular basis, and thence know a little bit about the other Villages in the Clan. And so on up the line.
When Villages (or Clans or Tribes) get too big they need to  reorganize. It is just, barely, possible for them to get to 128 and split to two 64s. A more interesting option is for 2 Villages to get together and emerge as three. (Clans and above are perhaps more likely to take the split option.)
Individuals have unique names or pseudonyms in a Village. Village names are unique in a Clan, and so on. So this gives every participant a unique identification.
Villages will, in general, have additional future members who are not yet qualified (minors who have a parent in the village, or candidates who haven’t yet met other villagers). Similarly Clans can have incipient “future” Villages that don’t yet meet the rules, and villages are demoted to that status when they break the rules. Things will presumably be more stable higher up.
I imagine that a significant activity will be jokey us-vs-them cultural activity. I.e. Villages will have some special, perhaps partly secret: dress rules, handshakes, idioms, musical activities. Villages will socialize with other villages in some ways. The aim will be to grow villages by attracting compatible people, then perhaps get to the mock-serious business of getting together with another village to produce an offspring.
Note that there is a presumption of privacy beyond the Village level, apart from the reps at the next level up, and village activities that people have agreed to take part in. A high level objective of this proposal is to experiment with cryptographic support for making this work in ways that combine security with the medium level of privacy which we all enjoyed until recent decades.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Multiplicity of currencies

The application of computers to economic life is about managing complexity. Think of the systems that keep planes full and airfares cheap, compared to the old paper ticketing system. Handling complexity means that you can get closer to an optimal system. When you can't handle complexity you have to accept inefficiencies to simplify the process.

Fiat currencies, like the Euro and national currencies, are just such a simplification that leads to a non-optimal solution. We see that non-optimality starkly in Greece (and Puerto Rico, and Detroit) where a semi-independent government body gets into financial trouble, and the resulting exodus of the best people from that area exacerbates the disaster.

We don't need fiat currencies any more. We can handle the complexity of multiple proof-of-work currencies. You go to a shop that wants payment in gold. You point your phone at the displayed price and it will display the conversion in currencies you have. Online purchases are even easier. Of course we are assuming a mutually trusted body to hold and track the ownership of that physical gold. This can be augmented with cryptographic currencies (like bitcoin) and by cryptographic proof of transfer of centrally held physical stuff (like gold) held by one or more trusted parties.

For small payments fiat currencies will continue to be important, and we can presume that people selling small amounts of stuff will continue to be required to accept them.

One of the advantages of fiat currencies is that they enable the government to raise money easily in an emergency (such as a war) by simply printing it. This is a tax on people who happen to hold the currency or who are owed money denominated in the currency. This will likely continue to work for small items, while for large items IOUs denominated in various currencies can be required to be accepted in a proclaimed emergency.

There is a really big advantage of moving to a proof-of-work currency that is backed by physical stuff held by multiple trusted central services: The physical stuff doesn't have to be useless (like gold or bitcoin). Instead it can be non-perishable stuff that might be useful at some future time. It might, in other words, double as actual preparation for some difficult future circumstances.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

3 Climate-related news items

In we see the key quote: "for the past 1 million years, carbon dioxide levels never rose above about 300 ppm". This means we're in uncharted territory and even if we didn't know anything about the probable effects we should still stop pumping CO2 ASAP. But we do know some highly probable effects: climate change and surface ocean acidification (more H+ ions, less OH- ions, even though staying on the basic side of neutral).

Two other items remind us of things that nature might throw at us.

The 20th century had few major geological events. The 21st century has started with two huge earthquakes. What might happen if we have some big volcanic eruptions. Recent analysis of ice cores and tree rings is very interesting:

There is also the possibility of a maunder minimum in the sun's activity. Some modellers claim ( to have an improved model of the sun's sunspot cycle, and that model predicts a maunder minimum in the next 20 years. The last one was associated with, and may have been a contributing cause of, the Little Ice Age (around 1700).

It would be interesting to see the climate models of a couple of big volcanoes going off close to each other in time, during a maunder minimum of solar activity, combined with a lot of open ocean in the Arctic pumping moisture into the atmosphere to fall as snow...

These scientific investigations act as an antidote to the impression non-scientist Greens try to give that all bad things come from humans, and all natural stuff is good. But they don't effect the imperative to stop pumping CO2. Maybe we've lucked out by making it a bit warmer before a cold snap hits, but after the cold snaps we'll race quickly to the trend line of warming. And, of course, acidification will be added stress to ocean surface life during any cold snaps.

The way to prepare for nature's cold snaps is to have lots of spare capacity of cheap carbon-free energy, so that we can do a lot of farming indoors with artificial light. The way to do that is with advanced nuclear power. Needless to say: solar power is not going to work in the next year without a summer.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Countries can save without causing financial disasters

Germany and China continue to demand the right to export more than they import. How do they do that? Obviously there must be more money coming in than going out. This has to be balanced by money going out that does not have anything coming back immediately, which is foreign investment in various forms.

The Chinese used to do this by buying US bonds. Then when the US decided to print money to buy bonds (and thus keep the value of bonds low), the Chinese realized they'd lost control of their money. We now see a lot more real investment in external real world assets. They still don't ultimately control that. Let's hope they never try to.

The Germans have a multinational currency. So all they need to do is find a sucker in the EU to lend it to. This gets harder and harder, so they've been lending to increasingly poor credit risks. Then when it blows up in their face they claim that the suckers must go to the equivalent of debtor prison.

Repeatedly down the years we hear China and Germany claim the moral high ground: "Why doesn't everyone live within their means and export more than they import, like us". When people point out that this is totally moronic, they go quiet for a while. But they don't change what their doing. And then they say it again.

Countries can, and should, prepare for the future, but they can't do it by saving money as ordinary folk do. They need to actually acquire real world stuff that will make the future safer. A good choice is to build energy creation systems that are relatively expensive to build (capital cost), but then have relatively low running cost. If you have cheap energy you can then make other stuff. Another thing to do is stockpile raw materials that are not easily available within your borders, but that can go wrong if future production switches away from that particular material.