I refuse to consider an advertising-based business model


“Chess is as elaborate a waste of human intelligence as you can find outside an advertising agency.” - Raymond Chandler

How many Wikipedias might we build every day if we didn’t watch advertising? [transcript]

“Shirky defines as a unit of attention “the Wikipedia”: 100 million person-hours of thought. As a society we have been burning 2,000 Wikipedias per year watching mostly sitcoms”

There is something irresponsible about making money from advertising. The idea of monetizing people’s attention makes me feel the same way I’d feel about burning books to stay warm.

Our one true inalienable right

In the future, our refusal to endorse assisted dying will be considered barbarism.

We as a society need to appreciate that a death of our own choosing, at our own time and on our own terms, may be the most noble way to end one’s life.

One day in the future, I look forward to the publication of a beautiful book of joyous and life-affirming suicide notes.

I’ve felt strongly about this for a long time – I wrote this short story about suicide as an inalienable right ten years ago.

On patents as a business tool

After doing some early research into patents, I concluded that:
  • they’d cost me $10k or so per patent
  • this would be a huge amount of time and effort for me
  • it would take at least a couple of years for the patents to be granted
  • I wouldn’t have the money to enforce them
  • small companies would probably ignore them anyway
So I was confident in asserting that patents were a waste of time (for my needs).
In the 6 months since, a few things have conspired to change my mind:
  • we’re close to raising investment, and investors care about patents because they provide evidence of value
  • likewise, they make you more acquirable
  • I’ve started to realize that patents’ primary value is as a deterrent against large companies who might otherwise lumber into competition
It’s this final point – that patents provide a watered-down ‘mutually assured destruction’ kind of deterrent against incumbents and larger companies that seems most important now. If you can protect yourself with patents, you make it much more likely that larger companies will partner with, license from or acquire you, rather than compete with you.

Create something shareable

My friend Joseph Perla is taking a year off from his undergraduate degree. Joe has created a rare opportunity for himself to spend his time any way he pleases. To be honest, I’m a little jealous of him – for a long time, I’d dreamed of living alone for a few months in a sunny, comfortable cave with high-speed internet access near a supermarket and a pub, just to think and read and write and code.

We talked about how to fill this period meaningfully. It would be pretty easy to fill a year reading RSS feeds and masturbating, though this would leave you with little to show for your time. I want to have some more substantive impact on the world around me. To be able to look back on my time spent with pride. To do something worthwhile. Joe and I talked about how to decide what projects would be worthwhile, and this was the metric I suggested:

Create something shareable.

Add to the sum total of human knowledge. Create something that others can use.

To be shareable, it has to be useful. It has to be trustworthy – if it’s flawed/buggy, or its conclusions are ill-founded then it could actually be of negative value. It’s probably going to require some effort, since if it was easy and quick, then it would be easier for other people to generate it anew than to internalize your solution. It probably needs to synthesize or improve upon what already exists, maybe surprising us or overturning existing intuitions.

The internet provides the medium for distribution, advertisement and collaboration. Commoditized hardware, open source software and freely available information provide the tools and raw materials.

This validates a whole host of online activities. Write carefully considered opinion pieces. Build up a corpus of entertaining posts to create an online persona. Gather interesting tidbits. Develop your art in whatever form it appears. Maintain an existing piece of open source software or create a Debian package. Write a new application or library. Edit wikipedia articles. Release your photos under a Creative Commons license. Put your notes online. Provide instructions for building cool things. Share your tools. Run a controlled experiment on yourself. Curate a dataset. Write a scientific paper and make it easy for others to replicate it. [These links are just some of my favourite examples of each activity].

Philosophy as debugging

Philosophical argument is kind of like debugging a program. You try and zero in on the source of the error, which is why you try and modularise the argument, provide test cases, see where you agree and disagree, and often it comes down to wrongful initialisation, a step accidentally added or omitted, or a failure to see the implications of some interaction you’d never fully considered.

The big lessons of philosophising

if you’ve decided that one group of intelligent people are clearly wrong, then you’ve probably failed to understand the full complexity of the problem

some questions can’t be resolved yet, or are maybe fundamentally ill-posed

the devil is in the details – you can convince people with rhetoric, but if you want to be right, you have to burrow burrow burrow

there’s always a means of undermining your assumptions, always a meta-position that invalidates the entire debate

even rational, intelligent, truth-seeking people can fail to draw the same conclusions

the value of some questions doesn’t lie in their answers

consistency, patience, ability to withhold belief – some people don’t see the attraction of methods that prioritise these

given the ineliminable level of noise and ignorance attached to any real questions, philosophising can’t help you decide pragmatic questions

philosophising has its own aesthetics – and many of them, often exclusive to each other