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What is going on with me

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I feel like I’ve been quieter online in the last few weeks than I have been in a while, so I’d like to take a few paragraphs to cover what’s been happening with me.

  • EvanCoin had a run of good press including a long article in WIRED, a mention in Bloomberg and a link in Boing Boing. I have been using EvanCoin with people for the last month, and I’ve got a lot of meetings scheduled this week and next. I’m feeling good about the whole thing.
  • My week in London for Mozfest and Amsterdam for rest was great. Reinvigorating, challenging and deep thoughts about technology and society. I’m excited about new projects.
  • It’s getting cold in Montreal.
  • Sunday was Stavy’s birthday. We had a party with six 8- to 10-year-old boys. It was exhausting. I made a piñata and a chocolate cake.
  • I had a great checkup with my doctor last week. Everything is going well, but she thinks I need to start reintroducing whole grains into my diet. So, I baked some sourdough over the weekend.
  • For my November 30-day challenge, I’m doing NaNoWriMo. I’m behind on my word count already, but I haven’t skipped a day writing yet, so I’m feeling pretty good.
  • I’ve also got a couple of personal hacking projects going on. I’m maintaining the Atom editor package for todo.txt files. I’m also building a checkin app for the network, including servers for hashtags and places.
  • On my trip to Europe, I brought an old Motorola G3 phone with CyanogenMod on it. I’ve upgraded it to LineageOS, but left out all the Google apps, including the Play Store. So I’ve just been using mobile web apps or Open Source apps that I can get on F-Droid or on the web. Great experience so far, although there are a few apps I miss.

That feels like a lot, but at least I’m caught up. Hello, world.

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Written by evanprodromou

November 7, 2017 at 8:46 am

Posted in Uncategorized

The health of the Internet

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My friend Ian Forrester asked me for my thoughts a few months ago about the Internet Health Report that Mozilla published earlier this year. If you haven’t read it yet, I strongly suggest you scan the site. It’s a great document that covers some important issues with the Internet — what makes it strong, and what work is needed.

I especially like the 5 pillars of a healthy Internet: open innovation, digital inclusion, decentralization, privacy and security, and Web literacy. There are great examples in each area on the health report covering some of the historically important issues that organizations like Mozilla and its allies have addressed.

But I have some issues that are important to me personally that I felt were not called out in this list. They’re mostly forward-looking; paying attention to parts of the Internet that are just emerging.

  1. AI. This is what I care about most. Current AI techniques require having lots of data, which limits the number of participants. It’s mostly governments and big commercial orgs creating and deploying AI today. Individuals, ad-hoc groups and non-profits hardly use it at all. That’s going to cause quite a skew over the next decade.
  2. VR. VR is sliding very much into closed systems like Steam or the Google Play Store. There are not open VR explorer systems in wide use. WebVR is a good first step, but we need to see more deployment and usage.
  3. Voice interfaces. Siri and Google Assistant are hugely centralized system; there are only a few other players. They are not open systems; it’s hard for developers to add new behaviours to Siri, for example. And it’s almost impossible for end users to correct voice interfaces (“No, that’s not ian’s email address”) or do end-user programming (“tell me any time ian sends me an email about mozfest”). The fact that most speech-to-text systems are cloud-based (everything you say gets sent to the cloud for recognition) is a potential nightmare for privacy.
  4. Touch-based software creation. Almost every interface in computing has changed radically since the 1950s with the exception of software creation. We still use an antiquated model of creating text files and running them through a compiler or interpreter. But most computer users today use touch-screen devices. Why don’t we have more touch-based software creation tools?
  5. Dating! I realize it seems trivial to some people, but romance and sexuality are a huge part of human existence. Many major dating sites are owned by a single company (IAC). The network effect make decentralized dating very hard to pull off. It’s an area that requires privacy and gradual disclosure. Open dating systems would be fascinating — posting one or more profiles on the open web in a way that preserves your privacy but allows gradual disclosure and connection.

I think there’s a lot more that needs to be addressed. I’m facilitating sessions on democratizing AI and on open dating as well as giving an update on the ActivityPub network at Mozfest 2017 this weekend.

Written by evanprodromou

October 27, 2017 at 7:54 am

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Birthday Inventory 2017

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Tomorrow, October 14, 2017, will be my 49th birthday. Before I start getting bombarded with AI-prompted well-wishing I thought I’d take a few moments to do a personal inventory at this point in my life. Warning: personal stuff ahead.

  • Family. I’ve been lucky to have two great kids, healthy and relatively happy, and a great relationship at home. My home life is an anchor for me.
    • Amita, 12, started high school this year. She’s confident and independent, and I’m very proud of her. We have an increasing distance between us, but I’m trying to find ways to spend more time with her. I want to share what little I know about the world with her before she has to face it all on her own.
    • Stavy turns 9 in a few weeks. He’s intense, thoughtful, moody. He’s also my closest friend. He has recently changed schools and it seems to have made his life a lot easier. I hope as a dad I can keep being helpful to him.
    • My relationship with my wife Maj is remarkably good, considering how busy we both are. She has been traveling for work and pleasure more than any other time in our marriage, and I think it’s giving her a chance to understand what she can make of her life with semi-independent tweens and teens. And I’ve been working hard on my company, which makes it hard to have time together. We’ve had to work harder this year to spend time together than ever before.
    • My other family — parents, brothers, in-laws, and more distant relatives — are all doing well, but they’re all far away. My mom and dad are happy in their home in Half Moon Bay, and my brothers and in-laws are either raising families or having adventures. I miss seeing them, but I know they’re just an email or phone call away.
  • Life’s purpose. William Gibson said, “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.” I’m still unsure what my point of being on this earth is, but I think at least part of it is evening up that distribution.
    • In the last few years, that’s primarily meant working on more democratic access to artificial intelligence with my company, Fuzzy.ai. Although I’ve been somewhat happy with our work here, our recent turn to targeting enterprise development has meant we’ve fallen off in this mission somewhat.
    • Additionally, my work on distributed and federated social networks continues, primarily through standardization at the W3C. We finished Activity Streams 2.0 this year, and it looks like ActivityPub will launch this year too. I’m excited by these options, but I’m also exhausted by the work that’s gone into them. I hope I can maintain the energy to keep working on them.
    • I feel pulled by lots of good ideas that I don’t have time to implement or even write about. I’m trying to keep myself focused on what’s important, but there’s always a temptation to procrastinate with the fun of launching a new project. One of my big challenges is knowing how to only start things I can finish.
  • Health. My health is at an all-time high in fall of 2017. I’ve got a BMI that varies between 24 and 25, which is lower than I’ve ever had it. But the effort to keep myself at this level of health is intense. I’ve been on a low-carb diet for the last 5 months, and I’ve got a pretty intense 7-day exercise regimen that takes up at least 1-2 hours a day. That said, I still feel like the trade-off is worth it, and I’m excited at the opportunity to enter my 50s with a physically fit body.
    • In terms of mental health, I have been working hard to get myself in a more calm and less irritable space over the last year. Partly this has been about moderating my caffeine intake by reducing how much coffee I drink. Partly it’s been exercise and meditation, which have given me more peace of mind. But it continues to be a struggle, and I use harsh words with people more often than I’d like.
    • Weirdly and kind of embarrassingly, dental health has been a big issue for me this year. I’ve always been a lazy brusher, just trying to get my breath fresh, and an occasional dental patient. This year, I got a new dentist and an assiduo flossing/brushing/mouthwash regimen with quarterly cleanings and checkups. It feels great.
  • Friendships. This is a place I continue to be disappointed in myself. I think friendships are important, but I usually put them last, well behind my family and my work. I have a few friends that mean a lot to me and that I spend personal time with, but I have a lot of others that I never seem to get the time to see.
    • I also have a large and active number of friends on Facebook. It’s pretty typical for me to get hundreds of reactions to a post, which is satisfying but ultimately not as fulfilling as in-person meetings.
    • I also feel disconnected from a community of tech-minded people that I felt I had over the last decade. I think partly this has been changes in my priorities, and partly a change in the state of the world. It’s just not that unique to be interested in social software any more, for example. It doesn’t hold us together like it used to. There’s also been a drop-off in some of my favourite conferences and meetups, like YxYY and XOXO.
  • Finances. I have a good job doing what I love. That said, I still remain very reactive in terms of personal finance — “What, that bill is due?” “Oh, there’s an opportunity there?” Maj and I have been doing some more long-term planning this year, which has been helpful for both of us, but I’d like to make a more proactive approach to personal finance one of my goals for the next year.
  • Politics. For the United States, I’ve been worried about the current state of the union since last year’s election. On my birthday in 2016, I thought we’d have our first-ever female president. Now, I worry that we’ll have our first-ever nuclear war. My only solace has been that disunity in the party in power, plus vocal opposition, has kept the worst abuses to a minimum. In Quebec, I worry about rising ethnic nationalism, especially Islamophobia. As a non-citizen resident, I feel somewhat powerless to participate or comment, but it really concerns me. I think that this will be the year that I become a dual citizen, if only to be more participative in this process.
    Mostly I’m concerned that there are big, earth-shattering issues coming over the horizon in the next few decades which aren’t being addressed strategically. Problems of social equity, economic change, climate instability. Opportunities in technology, space travel, health care and transportation, international cooperation. I’m sorry to see the news driven by he-said-she-said Twitter battles, rather than discussion of policies on how to make our world better.
  • Business. Fuzzy.ai continues to be a fascinating and frustrating endeavour. As with any startup company, there are highs and lows every single day. Since this isn’t my first or even fifth time at the rodeo, I’m a little inured to the ups and downs, but I feel like that might be keeping me from engaging fully. All that said, I believe in the Fuzzy.ai mission deeply in my core, which makes coming to work and building cool AI software really worthwhile and satisfying. It aligns with my life’s goal very well.
    • On a similar front, working on building the AI ecosystem in Montreal has proven really rewarding. There are a lot of people involved in AI here, and a lot of different players — academic, commercial, governmental. I’ve been trying to lend a hand when and where I can, because this seems like a unique opportunity for a city I love.
  • Hobbies. Personally, I’m finding a lot of satisfaction in my side-projects and hobbies. I’ve also been doing a lot of exercise — running, biking, etc. — and getting some other sports like hiking and skiing in with my family.
    • Since I’ve gone low-carb I haven’t been baking bread as much as I used to, but I’ve been pickling and making jams and jellies, which is equally chemistry-ish and fun. I’ve also been using my smoker a lot. Finally, I’ve added special nights to our weekly calendar for cuisines I want to work on. Jerusalem Night and Texas Night are both times for me to try new dishes or perfect old favorites. It’s a lot more work than I thought it would be.
      Unfinished tech projects continue to be a vice — I’ve been trying lately to focus these around 30-day cycles, so I can get them started, launched, and then either support them or let them go. But there are still a lot of loose wires and peripherals around my desk at home.I’ve also had some time for personal travel this year. I went to YxYY in July, and I leave for a week-long trip to London and Amsterdam next week. Mostly I’m looking forward to a Mediterranean heritage trip next fall, traveling to Alexandria, Jerusalem, Istanbul and Athens. Personal travel isn’t as big a part of my life as it used to be, but I’m trying to include more of it in my schedule.
  • Media. Like most middle-aged people, I struggle with keeping up with new books, music, and film. The addictive nature of nostalgia makes it too easy to turn back to things I know from years gone by.
    • Like, again, many other middle-aged people, the one medium I manage to stay up-to-date on is television, which takes up much more of my time than I’m happy with. But it’s always right there, and it’s always really good. As someone who remembers garbage TV as the de facto norm, it really feels like we’re living in a golden age.
    • I continue to be fascinated with podcasts, to a fault. This year I trimmed my listening list only to actual-play RPG podcasts, and I’ve been trying to write reviews on headgames.blog but I’ve slacked off in recent weeks and I’ve been having a hard time catching back up.

That feels like a lot, and yet I know there’s a lot more to write. I know that I have a good life, and I’m happy with where I am. I’ll continue to work on making my life better, though.

Written by evanprodromou

October 13, 2017 at 11:44 am

Posted in Uncategorized

YxYY 005

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“I really admired the way Richard built up an entire political movement to address an issue of profound personal concern,” Sarah said, explaining her attraction to Stallman.

My wife immediately threw back the question: “What was the issue?”

“Crushing loneliness.”

Sam Williams, Free as in Freedom, 2002.

I thought it might be a good idea for me to capture some of my thoughts about YxYY 005 while they’re still fresh in my mind. It’s been a great weekend for me, and it’s an important event to me, so I figure it’s worth some decompressing over.

Yes and Yes Yes is an annual event that started 5 years ago and if the numbering system is any indication was maybe planned to continue for 1000 years. It came from a social group loosely associated with the San Francisco tech community — or, really, one branch of it. I think maybe a word cloud of tags on people involved in this network would have tags like “web20” and “sxsw” and maybe “foocamp” or “burningman” appearing. But it’s been loose, too — there are people who’ve been involved from lots of different communities.

It was intended to replicate, and extricate, the social experience from Austin’s South by Southwest Interactive conference from the mid-2000s (the “Web 2.0” heyday). 

What experience, exactly? Eating good food, in part. Drinking good beer and artisanal cocktails. Seeing the people that you admire over the Internet from afar and finding out they admire you in return. Appreciating and being appreciated. Laughing at obscure references. Reinforcing the ties of that compose the dispersed social network.

There was a general consensus around the turn of this decade that the explosive growth of SxSWi made this experience much harder to have at the event itself. The powerful and lucrative platforms that had come out of this event attracted too many people trying to capitalize on it. At least two events (YxYY and XOXO) rolled out of a desire to provide a venue for this experience.

Both events worked well. XOXO because it had amazing, intelligent, diverse and fantastic speakers and a deep integration with the hipster wonderland that is SE Portland. YxYY took a different tack: a mostly social event sited at the tony and Portland-ish Ace Hotel in Palm Springs, CA. With no official schedule and an agenda centered mostly around chatting in a big pool, it seems like the lightest possible take on “tech conference” imaginable.

But it’s worked really well. For a number of reasons:

  1. A great network of intelligent and interesting people who branch out fractally from the root nodes of the 5 founders.
  2. An emphasis on diversity and particularly female participation. At every event, women have been more than 50% of ticket-holders. As you’d expect, this gives a largely polite and  positive environment.
  3. It’s only marginally technology-oriented. There are fun things to do, like the Maker Lounge and some sessions about technology, but mostly it’s a social event for tech people and their friends, rather than a tech event with some social stuff layered on top.
  4. A central thesis that you should say “YES” to things. Leaping into the unknown, taking opportunities. People at the event are relentlessly positive without being pollyannaish, and they make a big deal about trying new things.

XOXO decided to stop its annual event after 5 years, and YxYY’s founders decided to end their run for YxYY 005. They’re wonderful people and they all work hard and I’m happy they are taking time to live their lives, but ending the conference runs raises a lot of questions.

Did these events have a bigger meaning or mission? If so, was that mission achieved, so the event is no longer necessary? Or did we fail to achieve it, and it’s no longer worthwhile to try? It’s hard to tell where things lie, or what groups will take up the mantle after these two events end.

On this year’s event: I had a great time. Several things mattered a lot to me. First, I’m in probably the best physical shape I’ve been in since my teen years. I don’t think I’ve ever felt as OK walking around in just my bathing suit as I do now. I realize that that’s incredibly shallow but it’s surprising how much feeling comfortable in your own skin affects your ability to enjoy an event.

Second, I had a project that I’d been planning to do for three years that finally came off. The idea was based on the Long Now Foundation‘s Long Conversation from 02010. (I called my version The Long Con, which was both a nice abbreviation and a call-out to my favourite episode of Lost). (There are some interesting overlaps between Long Now and YxYY, not least their use of aspirational leading zeroes.)

The project was a chain conversation, starting off with 2 people A and B speaking to each other, and after 10 minutes person C joins and person A leaves so B and C can talk for 10 minutes, then D joins and B leaves, and so on for about 4 hours.

It was a resounding success. We had about 25 participants talking together, which makes for a lot of conversations, perspectives, and discussions. Everyone who was part of it really loved it, and it was a real pleasure to see it unfold. I’m excited to get the audio up to share privately with the YxYY community.

I feel like there are a lot of friends for me at YxYY. Many of them I knew from pre-YxYY times. Some I’ve met at the event. I feel recognized and validated by this community. It’s something I feel part of. I have a lot of variance between together-time and alone-time at YxYY, but I feel like I’ve found a good balance between them.

I am sad to have the event be over. It’s a unique slice of the tech-ish Bay-Area-ish community that matters to me, and I’ll miss spending time with them in that particular place. The founders have some ideas about what they are going to do next, but I’m pretty sure they will take at least 1 year off. I don’t know yet what will fill that same role for me in my life, if anything. Maybe that’s just not something you can replicate exactly the same way again.

Written by evanprodromou

July 11, 2017 at 1:41 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Earbuds update

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A lot of people have been worried about my headphones situation so I thought I’d give a quick update here.

If you’re joining for the first time: I was breaking a pair of earbuds about once per week. I wear them for walking around, weightlifting and running. Because I was going through them so often, I was mostly using cheapo $20 earphones I bought at drug stores.

I bought a pair of more expensive noise-cancelling Head Rush Earbuds, about $60, from La Source. La Source offered me a no-questions-asked extended warranty for these headphones: as long as I had the receipt I could exchange a broken pair for the same model as often as I wanted.

I bought them in mid-August 2016 and in the following eight weeks I replaced them 6 times. To their credit, the staff at La Source never gave me a hard time about it. But doing the math by the end of the 1-year period I’d be getting about $2160 worth of headphones for my original $60 outlay plus $16 for the extended warranty.

That’s where I left things last time. Most recently, in mid-October I went into La Source to get a new free pair, and decided to change things up a bit. Instead of getting the same model, I applied the credit to a pair of wireless earbuds from the same manufacturer. I had to pay about $50 difference plus another $15 for the extended warranty.

The difference has been like night and day. I have not got a new set of earbuds since mid-October, so about 10-12 weeks. My guess is that a lot of the damage to my previous pairs of earbuds had been due to stress on the connector that linked up to my phone. Without this connector, there’s less of a point of failure.

A confounding factor has been that I’ve also been trying to carry them in a case rather than just wrapping them around themselves and jamming them in a pocket. I think this is also being a lot kinder to the wires.

The biggest downside is that I have to remember to charge my headphones and my phone, which is one more thing to worry about. I usually get 2 days of use out of a full charge on the earbuds, so I can skip a night without worrying too much.  It’s a mixed blessing; skipping nights keeps me from having the discipline to plug in every night.
So that’s where I am at. I’ll keep you posted as further news develops.

Written by evanprodromou

December 30, 2016 at 1:51 pm

Posted in Uncategorized