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Sustainable economics

April 9, 2013

Bitcoin press has gone through the roof in the last few weeks. So has the exchange rate between traditional currencies and bitcoins – a fact that has seen as many different explanations as I’ve seen people wrapping their heads around the Bitcoin concept and writing about it.

One of the explanations is that there’s a cap on the number of bitcoins that will ever be produced – 21 million (divisible to eight decimals). While the rate at which bitcoins are produced right now makes the currency inflationary, speculation on future worth combined with the influx of people wanting to hold or use the currency can be said to have already brought out its deflationary aspects.

Some predict doom and gloom because of that deflation, essentially proclaiming that a currency that cannot expand, inflate, with the economy will cause it to contract instead – putting a stop to investments when they’re deemed necessary.

There’s a different tack to that argument. In an inflationary economy, like the one we all live in, money in the bank becomes less worth over time. The interest rate I’m currently paid on my savings is less than the rise in the consumer purchase index, effectively meaning that there’s pressure on me to spend that money sooner rather than later.

(The argument that I should “invest” my money is a fallacy. Since it’s been statistically proven that financial managers aren’t able to outperform chance the best you can do is to place money in no-fee index funds – which over time should keep up with inflation. Investments more narrow than that carry higher risk – like betting in a casino. But I digress .. )

A Bitcoin economy on the other hand, when it’s large enough for the regular ups and downs to lessen in magnitude, is one where I would expect my savings to grow in value over time. Thus there’s pressure on me to only spend money when I really need to.

It thus seems Bitcoin is the solution to wasteful Consumerism, making it well placed to be at the centre of discussions on Sustainability.

That cannot be a bad thing.

Tabs – the most valuable screen real estate

March 14, 2013

As I’m writing this, I have 20 tabs open in my web browser. Of those, the five latest are newly opened and temporary part of things I’m currently researching.

15 tabs are fixed, they’re always the same. Those tabs contain the websites I visit everyday, my most important windows into the Internet. Controlling one of those tabs means you control 1/15th of the information flow I receive every day – I can’t think of a more important pathway for any company to fight for.

Google, a company that currently owns four of those tabs, announced that they’re giving up on one of them today.

It’s either a sign of just how ubiquitous your business is anyway, or a very bad strategic decision. I guess time will tell – it looks like a service that previously had no mindshare with me might get to take over.

This particular ocean is red.

Climate variability in Northern Europe

November 19, 2012

A report from the World Bank is making rounds in media today. While portraying catastrophic scenarios, it contains no new actual research and is simply extrapolating statistical possibilities. Unfortunately the media headlines aren’t really reflecting the content – not unusual regardless of the topic.

However, it does give me an opportunity to post about some actual research that has taken place since the last IPCC report, while we wait for the new one to come out next year. The focus is on Scandinavia, both since I live here as well as it being one of the places where extensive climate proxies exist.

(Most Swedes know that in our recent history the climate has been both a lot colder as well as nice and balmy. We have no reason to believe our climate should stabilize)

“The level of warmth during the peak of the MWP (Medieval Warm Period) in the second half of the 10th century, equaling or slightly exceeding the mid-20th century warming, is in agreement with the results from other more recent large-scale multi-proxy temperature reconstructions.”


– B. Christiansen and F. C. LjungqvistThe extra-tropical Northern Hemisphere temperature in the last two millennia: reconstructions of low-frequency variabilityClimate of the Past


“The record provides evidence for substantial warmth during Roman and Medieval times, larger in extent and longer in duration than 20th century warmth.”


–  Esper et. al, Variability and extremes of northern Scandinavian summer temperatures over the past two millenniaGlobal and Planetary Change

And maybe one of the more interesting ones. This is an updated reconstruction by Briffa, famous for having authored one of the hockey sticks used by the IPCC. Apparently the stick has now disappeared.

Some previous work found that MXD and TRW chronologies from Torneträsk were inconsistent over the most recent 200 years, even though they both reflect predominantly summer temperature influences on tree growth. We show that this was partly a result of systematic bias in MXD data measurements and partly a result of inhomogeneous sample selection from living trees (modern sample bias). We use refinements of the simple Regional Curve Standardisation (RCS) method of chronology construction to identify and mitigate these biases. The new MXD and TRW chronologies now present a largely consistent picture of long-timescale changes in past summer temperature in this region over their full length, indicating similar levels of summer warmth in the medieval period (MWP, c. CE 900–1100) and the latter half of the 20th century.


– T. M. Melvin, H. Grudd and K. R. BriffaPotential bias in ‘updating’ tree-ring chronologies using regional curve standardisation: Re-processing 1500 years of Torneträsk density and ring-width data, The Holocene


I’m quite Popperian when it comes to science. Feel free to voice hypotheses, but if they’re falsified they need to be scrapped and new ones looked into. There are many competing explanations as to how and why the climate on Earth changes and we’re not doing society a favor by only talking about one of them.

Especially when the actual science does not support the hyperbole.

Availability cascades

January 28, 2012

An availability cascade is a self-sustaining chain of events, which may start from media reports of a relatively minor event and lead up to public panic and large-scale government action. On some occasions, a media story about a risk catches the attention of a segment of the public, which becomes aroused and worried. This emotional reaction becomes a story in itself, prompting additional coverage in the media, which in turn produces greater concern and involvement. The cycle is sometimes sped along deliberately by “availability entrepreneurs,” individuals or organizations who work to ensure a continuous flow of worrying news. The danger is increasingly exaggerated as the media compete for attention-grabbing headlines. Scientists and others who try to dampen the increasing fear and revulsion attract little attention, most of it hostile: anyone who claims that the danger is overstated is suspected of association with a “heinous cover-up.” The issue becomes politically important because it is on everyone’s mind, and the response of of the political system is guided by the intensity of public sentiment. The availability cascade has now reset priorities. Other risks, and other ways that resources could be applied for the public good, all have faded into the background.

– excerpt from Thinking fast and slow, by the psychologist and Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman

Speaking for many scientists and engineers who have looked carefully and independently at the science of climate, we have a message to any candidate for public office: There is no compelling scientific argument for drastic action to “decarbonize” the world’s economy. Even if one accepts the inflated climate forecasts of the IPCC, aggressive greenhouse-gas control policies are not justified economically.

opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, underwritten by 16 scientists.

(This post brought to you by the confirmation-bias-department)

Creativity surplus as virtual work

May 11, 2011

In the spring of 2008 I sat in the audience at Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco, watching Clay Shirky on stage. His talk about the cognitive heat sink, on how television had disrupted humanity from spending large parts of our time on being creative, on producing things we wanted to produce, to being simple receivers of information pre-packaged by someone else made a huge impact. Shirky compared the amount of hours we spend watching TV with projects like Wikipedia, and hinted at a future where instead of watching TV we would use our creativity to create other projects like it.

Of course, if you recognize the argument, it’s what later became Shirky’s latest book – Cognitive Surplus. I’ve used it to good effect in my own presentation series over the last few years and in a world where we see a whole generation watching less and less TV and Linchpins eager to put the available creativity to good use – what do we do?

Well. Apparently we spend over 3 million hours each day launching birds into pigs.

Gaming is, however, a lot better for our creativity than TV. One of the more creative of games, being compared to playing with Lego, is Minecraft. It’s a sandbox game, where it would be difficult to describe what if anything the real purpose of the game is. It’s also actively played socially together with others, making it participatory. Lego is said to have been the inspiration for many future engineers – I’m one myself.

Minecraft village
These games can be quite addictive as shown by Minecraft’s moniker “minecrack“, and that might be slightly worrying. If we go back to pre-digital times, no matter what our creativity was used for it’s likely it was something physical that lived on when we ourself moved on to other things. We recognize a lot of these creative works as art today, antiques, items that sometimes furthered society.

Digital creativity – value – in virtual worlds only exists for as long as we keep that digital world alive. When the next thing comes along, when I stop creating huge (and time consuming) beautiful structures in Minecraft, they’re gone – forever. True, this is the same with a non-digital sandbox or toys like Lego, but these games are played by the adult population to a much higher degree.

Being a futurist, I love doing projections. Since my answer to the common motivator “Think outside the box!” is -What box? I also sometimes explore boundary conditions by taking projections to their extreme. One answer to Fermi’s paradox is that all sufficiently advanced civilizations spend all their time doing virtual exploration and work inside simulations.

Back to reality – I love Shirky’s argument. I’m slightly worried we’re spending our newfound creativity surplus on things that only have fleeting purpose though, satisfying our neural pathways for the moment but with a bitter aftertaste.

The current buzz du jour is Gamification, and maybe that’s a solution. Make the real world more game like.

(If we’re sufficiently advanced, maybe it already is)

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Världens bästa affärsidé

January 5, 2011

Följande text skrev jag den 5e september 2003 för eventuell publikation i en svensk tidning. Såvitt jag kommer ihåg skedde aldrig det, och eftersom jag nyligen oväntat stötte på den på en gammal del av hårddisken återpublicerar jag den här nu. Man kan tycka att den är väldigt aktuell med tanke på att straffskatten på inspelningsbar media – hårddiskar m.m – höjs igen den 1e april

I veckan som gick annonserade Universal ut att de ska sänka priserna på CD-skivor. Detta skapade enorma rubriker, och kommentarerna har genomgående varit att äntligen har musikbolagen förstått. Det har alltid sagts att just höga priser orsakat den utbredda piratkopieringen – iaf av de som själva kopierar.

Tidigare i somras slog sig den amerikanska musikbranschorganisationen RIAA för bröstet och utropade en delseger i kampen mot den illegala kopieringen av musik på nätet – tydligen har antalet musikbytare minskat med nästan en tredjedel från april till juni. Enligt RIAA berodde en stor del av detta på att de börjat dra enskilda musikbytare inför domstol.

Logiskt sett borde detta leda till ökad skivförsäljning. Musikbolagen har alltid sagt att det är det enkla utbytet av musik på nätet som orsakat minskad försäljning. För att detta ska vara sant ska alltså försäljning av musik på fysisk media gått upp under samma period.

Inte. En analytiker noterade i veckan att även om antalet personer som synligen byter musik på nätet minskat, så har minskningen av antalet sålda skivor som pågått sedan Napsters storhetstid accelererat under samma period – tvärtemot vad som borde hänt om den förhärskande tesen att kopiering av musik på nätet har en direkt koppling till antalet sålda skivor skulle vara sann.

Så hur kommer det sig att Universal går ut och sänker priset på skivorna? Det skulle krävas en stor ökning av antalet sålda skivor för att sänkningen ska betala sig. Visst vore det enklare om musikbolagen istället kunde ta ut någon form av skatt av alla i världen oavsett om de kopierade musik, köpte musik eller ens lyssnar på musik istället?

Det är precis vad de gör. Redan 1999 började flera länder – däribland Sverige – införa en extra avgift på inspelningsbart media. Den extra avgiften går oavkortat till musikbranschen, oavsett om de tomma CDR-skivorna du köper ska användas i backupsyfte eller bränna musik på.

Det är den mest geniala affärsidé jag vet.

Troed Sångberg, 2003-09-05

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What does a digital nation state look like?

December 3, 2010

Swedish news papers are launching digital versions on Apple’s iPad – and seem to be somewhat surprised that they’re now going to have to comply with a set of rules that are very different from what they’re usually operating under.

Spotify’s music library reflects a specific set of values, morality and legal system no matter where the listeners are and what they expect.

Citizens used to having rights according to their chosen nation state find that when they move more and more of their lives onto the digital arena those rights are replaced with Terms of Services that reflect corporate and cultural values.

One solution would be to move backwards, to create digital nation states accurately reflecting the nation states of our physical presence. We could even pretend we’re travelling between such digital nation states when using different Internet services, but it’s not likely we would accept the shift in legal system and cultural values implicitly while still sitting behind our desk at home.

There seems to be no easy solution to the fact that we have created a single global digital nation everyone can access where it’s impossible, not to say unwanted, that a single (or multiple of) nation state can enforce their cultural values and laws. Another aspect of the current situation is to describe it as corporations (though still bound by the nation state they’re operating from) having created their own digital nation states with laws and values – Terms of Services – where being a citizen of the state of Facebook is different from being a citizen of the state of 4chan.

The Internet has been in public use for about fifteen years. During the next ten we’ll become connected in real time, outsourcing both our memory and decision making to external services not bound to a single physical location.

At no point in history have so many people changed their culture of moral values as quickly as will be needed now. It’ll be interesting, to say the least.

It will also likely become very ugly.

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