May 1st, 2016

How not to send me over the edge of sanity:

      NEVER wake me up with bad news.

      • Bad news could include requests do so something, deadlines I wasn’t expecting, or simply the worsening crisis in the middle-east.
      • Wake me up with kisses, deep philosophical realizations, or blow jobs. Never use an alarm block.
    • If I’m concentrating on something – which will be clearly apparent due to my slowed reactions and failure to make eye contact. DON’T keep pestering me about something. At that moment in time it doesn’t matter what you think you’ve got that’s more important -to me, keeping my focus, is more important – break that focus at your peril.
      • Breaking focus will result in angry outbursts, storming out, and swearing – I have no control over this
      • Failing to notice the warning signs that I’m in this state of focus and continuing to attention-seek anyway will result in particularly large volcanic eruptions.
    • Don’ get angry if you thnk a person has let you down -it doesn’t mean they haven’t tried really hard, and it mayt just mean you’re working on different timescales and rthe person will surprise you yet.

Apply OSS principals to Bitcoin strategy

January 18th, 2016

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How to properly fix Bitcoin

January 17th, 2016

I’ve gone to quite a lot of trouble to write out my advice for the core developers at Bitcoin.

I realise it’s lengthy and somewhat daunting and we all have constraints on our time, but I’ve taken the time to write it, so if you’re involved in Bitcoin do me a favour and take the time to read it :) The first half is mainly context for anyone who hasn’t been following Bitcoin closely. If you don’t need that, skip down to the second heading that ends with “potential split” – most of the detailed advice is right towards the end.


For those who haven’t heard – Bitcoin has suffered a serious rift over the last few months, culminating yesterday in Mike Hearn (one of the small team of core developers who look after the project) storming out in a bit of an angry cloud; saying bitcoin was an experiment that has failed, and he effectively washes his hands of it. This caused a 15% drop in the price of Bitcoin.

As a result of this, I did some research to work out what’s going on. – Although I use bitcoin, and know it well from a currency perspective, like a car, you can drive it around perfectly fine without ever looking under the bonnet (that’s the “hood”, to all you American folk). Until now I understood the basics of how it worked and never really delved too much deeper, either into the specific code that holds it all together, or into the organisational structure responsible for maintaining it – I just kinda assumed all that had been pretty well sorted out – clearly I was wrong.

Now Mike Hearn is wrong, Bitcoin isn’t dead, it’s very much alive – there are hundreds of companies with investment in the technology, ranging from tiny tech start ups that have grown directly out of the block-chain, through to the organisations that run the exchanges and wallets – beyond that you’ve got some quite major players who have put time into accepting Bitcoin as a payment method, and the thousands of users who are following it either for the purposes of speculation, or simply out of curiosity for the technology. Bitcoin has actually got quite a lot of weight behind it at the moment, it’s spawned an entire industry, all of which to some extent or another has its fortune entangled with that of Bitcoin itself.

In short, there are probably hundreds of thousands of people with some level of investment in Bitcoin and its associated technology, many of whom are eagerly supporting it as an alternative to the status-quo – a vote against “the system”. Bitcoin represents a economic, social and political movement, of far more importance than the finer details of how the system is implemented technically – it’s like arguing over how many tiny dots to place around the queen’s head on a one pence piece. Bitcoin is a belief, a philosophy, and a challenge to the mainstream, many people passionately support it as an idea, not as a piece of software. This is why Mike’s blog post made such a big impact – it tramples on dreams. People see Bitcoin going somewhere, it’s depressing to be told it’s a dead end.

Bitcoin is not dead, not by a long way, but it is in very real mortal danger.

So what’s all the fuss about anyway?

I’ve gone to the effort of picking apart the technicalities of this rift that appears to have formed among the core team of developers. Ostensibly, the disagreement came out of an argument over what to do about the block size limit.

I’ll try to explain this problem in simple terms (if you’re already familiar with this, skip the next couple of paragraphs). The block-chain is effectively a ledger – every time some amount of bitcoin is transferred from one address to another, an entry is recorded in the block-chain, and the block-chain is magically distributed throughout the network such that there can be no argument about what’s on the ledger – once a block has been encoded, it’s there permanently (due to some clever crypto voodoo that we won’t go into right now).

Now, as a detail of the way the original developer chose to implement Bitcoin, the block-chain (which, remember is really just a ledger (transaction log) – a list of items saying (effectively) “Kieran transferred 1 bitcoin to Bob at this precise time” – that log is divided up into individual blocks – think of each block like a page in a ledger book. Before a transaction is visible on the network, the transaction must be included in a block, and that block must be distributed to all the members of the network. If you use the book analogy – you can tear a page out of a book, photocopy it and give it to someone, and that page might contain a few hundred individual entries on it. There’s no easy way to send individual transactions or smaller units – you wouldn’t send someone half a page, you send them the full page even though there’s nothing written on half of it – it’s the smallest unit you would reasonably send someone – one page.

So, with that bit of background explained – here’s the problem: blocks are a fixed size, plus, due to the nature of the network: there is a limit to the rate at which blocks can be added – this means there’s a ceiling to the number of transactions that Bitcoin can actually process within a given time frame. In the earlier days of Bitcoin, those blocks were largely empty, there simply wasn’t enough transaction volume to cause a problem – you were in effect photocopying large pieces of paper with only a few lines in the top left corner. Suffice to say, that is no longer the case, now we’re regularly seeing a situation where the entire block is full, and transactions are being queued for the next block – sort of like a traffic jam building up. This is detrimental to the performance of the network because transactions will take longer to confirm, and, left unchecked – this limitation will stifle the growth of the technology.

As computer scientists it makes us uneasy that the block-chain ledger is filling up and transactions are getting queued – that doesn’t feel good to a programmer because it’s the kind of thing we experience when our server isn’t fast enough to handle our application – it means you need a bigger server, and it shakes your trust in the system. But to an economist, the ledger being full is not necessarily a problem. Supply and demand, first rule of economics. Until now supply of space on the ledger has far exceeded demand, but we’re hitting the point where that’s no longer the case – we now have a limited supply and a steadily increasing demand. Supply and demand is by nature a self-regulating system, people won’t pay more than they consider reasonable, so transaction costs probably won’t spiral out of control, and to some extent the demand will be moderated by load on the network.

Think of it like a public transport network – if you find the bus is always overflowing with people when you try to use it, some of those bus users will inevitably end up buying a car and giving up on the bus, thus bringing the number of people on the bus down, making it more tolerable, there’s an element of feedback which makes the system self-regulating – this is where it becomes stifling to Bitcoin though – if users are finding alternative options as a result of the delay in processing transactions, Bitcoin is in-effect losing market share. However, no evidence is telling me that we’re anywhere near that point yet – I think we’ve got a fair bit of margin before the sky comes tumbling down.

My obvious and immediate reaction to all this was “well if the block size is a constraining factor, just make the block size bigger” – problem solved. I can therefore completely sympathize with Mike Hurd’s obvious frustration when he tried to increase the size, and realised that he couldn’t get all of the other key developers to agree with him. Mike paints a very black & white picture in his blog post – either you increase the block size as soon as possible, or you are completely impotent and doomed to go the way of the dinosaurs.

It would be easy to be swept up with Mike’s worldview. However, the truth is, it’s a bit more nuanced than that. Firstly, I think really we’re talking about the difference between raising the block size now, or waiting a bit and then raising it at a later date, or finding a different technical solution to the problem. I don’t think anyone would seriously suggest we intend to live with this particular limitation forever. The other developers didn’t obstruct the change out of malice, they had their reasons for thinking sticking with the status-quo was the best course of action at the present time.

I’m not going to delve massively deeply into this, but I’ve worked out a few good reasons why you might decide to take a “wait and see” approach. The most obvious one is that the block-chain is already a *massive* set of data, it’s already quite unmanageable, if we double the block size, we’ll double the amount of data that we’re adding on a daily basis. Furthermore, there’s some argument to say Bitcoin could do with some structures of intrinsic regulation – it might make it more stable. The supply and demand system that would result from space scarcity within each block is a self-regulating system, we know this from simple economics – if people want their transaction done quickly, they will pay higher fees, but they’ll never pay more than they think it’s worth, because who does that?

Also let’s not forget that until now transactions on Bitcoin have been effectively free – miners get paid because the currency automatically dilutes itself in order to pay them – this is, in effect, a tax on the network that everyone has to pay in the form of a devaluation of the currency (hey, if governments are doing it, why shouldn’t bitcoin?) – In order to send money from one address to another, though – until now, that’s basically been free, the cost of mining is absorbed into the wild price fluctuations of the currency, and everything else, well it’s basically just not paid for.

When you think about it though, that’s a perverse system – Bitcoin requires resources to run, all systems do, you don’t just get something for nothing in life. Bitcoin is software, it has to run somewhere, and the machines that it runs on have to be paid for. I’m not just talking about the mining rigs – they’re already paid for by the payout lottery and the automatic dilution of the currency (for now), the costs I’m thinking about here are the CPU time on all the nodes in the network and network bandwidth used by bitcoin nodes talking to each other – the hard disk space taken up by multiple copies of the entire block-chain in many locations around the world. Ultimately Bitcoin requires quite a lot of infrastructure, and most of it is currently “on the blag” (to my American friends – that means it has been sponging off its parents for a bit too long and it’s about time it stood on its own feet).

Fundamentally, what we have here is a limited resource – yes, we can increase the block size, and that will mean you can get many more transactions processed within a block, but the point is, processing transactions incurs a cost, and that cost is not being properly reflected in what people are actually paying. Follow through to its conclusion, you realize that it’s actually quite dangerous to allow the system to continue to grow, while the costs of running it are not being properly reflected in its financial mechanics. If you want an example of why it’s a bad idea to sweep costs like this under the carpet, take a look at the big polluting industries, like fossil fuel-based energy generation for example – what you see there is an entire financial system based around a model which leaves out one of the biggest costs of the whole thing! Fossil fuels are cheap because their costs are defined entirely in terms of the short term – digging a mine or floating an oil rig cost a lot of money, sure, but they pale in insignificance compared to what your costs would be if you had to pay future costs to all of humankind. The economic model is broken because it does not factor-in the single largest cost – the debt you owe to future generations for screwing up their climate! If you forget to include costs like this, it always comes back to bite you later – this is what happens when you don’t properly identify and account for all the resources that your system is using – system goes evil and destroys the planet! Of course “Carbon Credits” are a very crude attempt to put a price on destroying the planet to re-balance the relationship, but we’ve left it a bit late and we’re probably going to need more extreme measures.

Okay perhaps a slightly facetious analogy, but being pragmatic for a moment let’s look at the actual facts – yes blocks are sometimes entirely full, and that’s not really ideal. However, the system is not actually broken, it still works fine, and there’s no reason to think we have to be immediately worried that things will grind to a halt. Plus, the system has never reached this stage before, and we don’t know exactly what will happen when ledger space becomes a commodity – there’s no real harm in leaving the system as-is and finding out, then perhaps making a change when we’ve more of an idea what we’re dealing with. After all, Bitcoin is an experiment right? Wouldn’t you like to know what happens when ledger space becomes a limited resource? If anything does go wrong, it will go wrong fairly slowly and we’ll have time to sort it out. Sometimes it’s bad to rush into action before you know what you’re dealing with – a conservative approach is to stand back and observe the situation for a bit before you dive in.

So in other words, although we’re filling blocks and, as a result, transactions are getting queued and delayed before they make it into a block-chain, we’ve got a little way to go before the entire system grinds to a halt, any urgency is really false urgency. Also, there are valid arguments on both sides, and it’s not a clear-cut situation where you can definitely say “this is the correct thing to do”. Nobody knows precisely what the correct thing to do is, so there are bound to be some disagreements.

Bitcoin needs to be really smart about how it manages its resource utilisation in future releases – if it places too much burden on the infrastructure without having the means to pay for what it uses, it’s just completely unsustainable. We should take our time about deciding to make major changes, if we can possibly delay it to give us more time to collect data and contemplate how to design it – we should take all the time we can. Somewhere I saw suggested the idea that the block size would just double at regular intervals, exponentially increasing to infinity. That did not strike me as a particularly good idea. The block size should only be as big as it needs to be, no bigger, for efficiency reasons, which means whatever scheme we put in to control the block size should increase it in steps, only when required – with exponential growth, the block size will quickly become large enough to start causing problems. There’s lots of shades of gray here, it’s far from a clear cut either/or situation.

So that’s my understanding of the current technical disagreement that’s triggered a potential split.

The real split in Bitcoin is social though, not technical.

Although on the surface the split seems to have been caused by this disagreement over whether to increase the block size or not, actually, that was just a trigger, when you think objectively about it, that decision really doesn’t threaten Bitcoin either way, it’s a complex decision that involves economics and finance as well as programming, and there’s bound to be a spectrum of views. Within most corporate environments, these kinds of situations are normally dealt with by sitting around a table and thrashing it out, and if consensus can’t be reached by the end of it, then a majority decision settles it – with the boss or whoever’s in the most senior position having the final say and often the ability to overrule a team decision; “If the boss says this is what we’re doing – this is what we’re doing.”

The threat to Bitcoin isn’t anything to do with block size, it’s not even a technology problem – the technology has some limitations but ultimately it’s working pretty well. The problem that could cause the whole thing to collapse, is the fact that there is no formalized method for deciding disputes, no hierarchy or structure, just a bunch of guys with differing opinions and nobody to act as referee. This is true of all organisations when they initially start out – with just a small number of people, and steadily grow, they will eventually reach the point where they need to start implementing structure – departments, chains of command, rules, regulations, etc. All small organisations have to go through this process, and it’s often a painful one, but Bitcoin has it worse than most – the project sprung from just one man(/woman/group), the illusive Satoshi Nakamoto, Bitcoin was his brainchild and he would’ve been its natural leader. But for reasons best known to himself, this figure has disappeared from the public sphere, leaving Bitcoin entrusted to, well, whoever he could convince to take on the responsibility at the time. A group of somewhat reluctant developers who probably feel a little burdened by the duty to keep the system going.
In effect what we have with Bitcoin is an Empire that lost its Emperor – it does not have that cohesive force that would bring things together, it does not have its “Steve Jobs”, “Bill Gates”, or “Linus Torvalds”. It was abandoned at birth, and left in the care of a team of people perhaps not best equipped to take on the task. Organisations need that guiding force to rally-around at this stage in their development – someone to lay down the law and say “this is how we’re going to do things from now on”. As an organisation grows, it must implement structure otherwise it will become unmanageable. I believe this is basically what’s happened with Bitcoin – nobody is in charge, it’s just a free-for-all, rife with frustrations, resentments and anger.

Unfortunately Opensource projects are somewhat more prone to coming a cropper at this particular stage of organisational development. There are many many examples of Opensource projects that were forked as a result of some fundamental disagreement over the future direction of the project – exactly like the “shall we increase the block size?” issue – it’s quite normal for disagreements over things like that to cause angry in-fighting and a lot of resentment between the two warring parties. Of course one of the big advantages of Opensource code, is that, because the code is available, if you disagree with the direction the project’s going in, you can always take the code and start your own version. This is called “forking”, and it happens a lot – people are talking about it potentially happening with Bitcoin.

Opensource evangelists use the ability to “fork” to highlight the advantages of Opensource development over traditional commercial software – you can’t just go in different directions if the project you’re working on is a commercial piece of software – if you disagree with the direction you’re being told to go in – tough, sometimes you just have to deal with it or leave, and of course if you leave, you can’t take their code with you! Software is the intellectual property of the company you work for, and when you leave, it’s entirely theirs and you have no claim over it. Opensource is different because everyone has equal claim over the code – it makes it easy to split an entire project over disagreements, because you can both take the code with you, neither side has to back down and accept the other’s will – people are less willing to compromise, because they’ve got less to lose, they can walk away and still take the project with them.

Of course, we all secretly know that forks aren’t really a good thing – when a project is forked, 9 times out of 10 it’ll be because two of the core developers have had a major disagreement and the situation has often become fairly acrimonious. This is actually a weakness of opensource software, not a strength. It means just at the point a project should be growing and building a management structure, instead it often divides into two separate tiny entities, which then continue to go off in their opposite directions, still not having built any management structure, and now each of the two child projects is diminished in its scale by half. It doesn’t normally benefit the project for it to fork, and coming from the world of commercial software development, some of the types of technical disagreements that have been known to cause forks seem so trivial to me – if those kinds of disagreements happen in the world of business you’ll discuss the relative merits of each side of the argument, and then somebody will make a decision and that’s that – under good management, disagreements aren’t allowed to fester on indefinitely.

This is where Opensource projects fall down so easily. More often than not an opensource project is run by a group of 3-4 developers, all with roughly equal status relative to each other, and none having an absolute right to overrule another. In projects where it all started from an individual programmer’s initial idea, he will often come out as the de-facto leader, and that’s what has allowed Linux Torvalds and the Linux project to be so successful. But the problem you get with teams of programmers is that often none of them are natural leaders – programmers like technical detail and accuracy, but sometimes struggle with seeing the big picture and making strategic decisions. Without the ability to defer to authority, Opensource projects have no arbitrator to settle disputes, and to some extent the boundaries of professional conduct get stretched in the heat of the moment too – I’ve seen Opensource developers rip into each other online in ways that would be considered quite inappropriate in an office environment.

There’s a sort of romantic idea that opensource development is some kind of Utopian hippie commune, we don’t need order, or authority, or a business plan, or an organisation structure, or any kind of organisation at all really, just love and peace and flowers in the hair etc. Unfortunately hippie communes work much better when everyone smokes a lot of weed, guess it stops arguments breaking out. Sadly it’s quite hard to write code while you’re stoned, so Opensource development often ends up quite tense. I wish it weren’t the case, but unfortunately our entire social structure and sense of how to interact with the world is based around an implicit hierarchy, observance of rules and doing what you’re told. Take that away and humans get a bit lost. There’s a reason every game of football has a referee. Without someone in charge, things quickly turn ugly. Programmers often don’t naturally organise themselves into a hierarchical structure though – in some cases totally opposed to any form of authority.

Add to that, the fact that with Opensource development, often the developers will feel a much stronger emotional bond with the project they’re working on – when you’re writing software for a company, it’s their software, when you’re writing opensource software, it’s yours – you care more because it belongs to you. I think that often adds to the heat of any disputes that do occur. In a commercial operation, if someone overrules you even though you’re adamant they’re wrong to do so, ultimately you just convince yourself “who cares? it’s only work”. But with Opensource software people really do care, so I think it’s easy for people to get carried away.

I’ve been in that position where you’re working on a project, and it’s fun and you’re making real progress and everything seems fine, until one day you wake up and realism the project is actually bigger than you are, and that’s quite daunting and stressful. When things get tough in a large corporation, there are support mechanisms – your boss will notice and (with any luck) try to help, failing that you may have an HR department to go to with problems. When you’re working in a small start-up organisation, you don’t have that, you have only yourself – that can be quite an overwhelming feeling.

So, this leads me on to the solution. Bitcoin is mortally wounded, but it can be saved. Actually the task of doing it is relatively trivial. Make no mistake, there will be a crypto coin that breaks through into the mainstream and begins to take serious chunks out of the market capitalization of the existing traditional currencies. If it’s not Bitcoin, it’ll be one of the slew of crypto-coin alternatives, but why allow another to take all the glory, when Bitcoin was what started it, Bitcoin already has all the momentum, Bitcoin should see it through – stupid to give up now. The challenge, is getting everyone to agree to what’s needed. However, those of us who genuinely want to see Bitcoin continue and expand as a rival to traditional fiat currency will understand why this needs to happen, and hopefully there’s enough of us to get it put in place.

How to fix bitcoin

All of the events leading up to this point make one thing abundantly clear – Bitcoin is in trouble as an organisation because it has no structure – it’s not even really an organisation, no formal rules for dealing with disputes, no real sense of direction or clear line of accountability. I suspect to some extent the members of that small team of developers who’ve been keeping Bitcoin going must be exhausted and feeling pretty burned out – it’s too much responsibility for a team of three or four people with very little support.

What Bitcoin desperately needs -(in fact what any crypto-currency is going to need to survive long-term), is to be backed by an organisation with a clearly defined mission statement, set of rules and conventions of operation, and a much wider and more accountable team making the crucial decisions. You can’t have a situation where one or two people are mediating what gets committed to the code base that’s running

So here’s my idea. Bitcoin needs a non-profit, perhaps an NGO? It needs to have a board of directors, 8 to 12 of them with a range of skill sets. There’s no reason why all the key players that are currently involved couldn’t have a seat on that board. The board would be responsible for all major decisions affecting the Bitcoin platform, and disagreements would be settled by vote. Wait a second, I’ve just described the Bitcoin foundation right?

Hold on a minute, Bitcoin Foundation is very nearly what is needed – it just has no credibility, no budget and no mission statement! Oops!

Forget advocacy and educational outreach – the Bitcoin ecosystem is full of evangelists that’ll be more than happy to spread the word for free – The Bitcoin Foundation is wasting its time trying to do that.
Here’s my suggestion: redefine the Bitcoin Foundation as a sort of indecent standards/regulatory body, with the responsibility to arbitrate any contentious development decisions. Seriously, this isn’t the first time there’s been major arguments in the Bitcoin project, and it will continue to happen until you put in place a system where overriding control. You need oversight, because sometimes people need to be forced to back down and compromise. Without that authoritative arbiter to resolve disputes, Bitcoin will constantly be in a state of warfare, and everyone involved will be gradually become more and more irritable and resentful. It’s not good!
.. and perhaps it takes an outside to point of view to highlight this to you, but I’d just like to draw your attention to this quote from Mike’s blog:

But every Bitcoin user, miner and investor faces a stark choice:

Bitcoin Core: a project run by two men who have shown clear opposition to the block chain having a future. One of them works for a company that makes more money the worse the block chain gets: conflicts of interest don’t get more extreme than that.

Bitcoin XT: a project run by two men who already shipped a compromise solution that reflects the demands of miners, users and companies.

Do you have any idea how bad that sounds? We’re taking about a system with a market capitalization of $6,648,121,625 – and that responsibility rests on two guys? That’s just totally crazy, no wonder there’s arguments. You need a team of about 6 people to collectively take responsibility for that job otherwise it’s just too much stress to put on a person. It may seem weird to give control away to for the final live commits, but giving away that power to the board of directors will set you free as developers to focus on writing code rather than tearing chunks out of each other. Honestly, I’ve seen some of the communications between you all on Reddit, and I have to say the language and tone that’s being used is an utter disgrace! You’re grown adults, fighting like spoiled teenagers. It’s a threat to Bitcoin and it’s making you all look a bit like morons, stop it. I’m not trying to be rude, but sometimes it’s important to tell things like you see them!

Anyway, to sum up – I think you should completely rehash the Bitcoin Foundation. Just looking at the website it’s clear that organisation has big problems. No full time employees, a partially-disgraced board of directors, no money in the bank, and thanks to the minutes they’ve been uploading from their meetings – I can see that they basically meet up once a month, sit around wondering what they’re supposed to be doing, can’t think of anything, so fall back to “perhaps we should just give up and go home?”

It’s depressing. Perhaps the Bitcoin foundation is past saving and it’s best just to liquidate it and start again – choose a new name for it and bring in a completely new set of directors there’s no lingering accusations of corruption – perhaps call it the “Bitcoin Council”?

In one of the meetings that I remember reading from the Bitcoin Foundation, the directors literally sat around and effectively said “well we don’t really have any money or goals or direction, so that pretty much rules out taking any kind of action at all!”

It’s just absurd!

Here, I’ll write the mission statement for you; “The Bitcoin Council’s role is to promote mutual understanding and information transfer between the stakeholders and the Bitcoin development team. The council’s goal is to improve the quality of the Bitcoin platform, uphold its values and ensure that any issues or disputes are dealt with swiftly and fairly”.

I’ll also write a director’s job description: “Directors are expected to take all necessary steps to understand the stakeholder experience and represent that to the development team, where appropriate offering suggestions to the developers to enable them to improve the end-user experience. Directors will also be expected to arbitrate any disputes that may occur, and should maintain a balanced and independent outlook while doing this, to ensure that all sides are treated fairly and proportionately”.

You really should work our the precise organisational structure and have it written down by a lawyer in a completely custom document. For a moment I got excited when I saw the “By-laws” section on the Bitcoin foundation website – I got excited and thought “at least they’ve done this properly”, but then I read the document that’s on there and realised it’s just a lightly modified boilerplate document not dissimilar to the one we used to have at my tech start-up.

The organisation that’s needed for Bitcoin is significantly different to a standard corporation, and i think you’d benefit from having those documents drawn up from scratch with professional legal advice – it’ll help you to codify what’s expected of everyone, and tie it into a contract that everyone is required to uphold. The precise details of that would probably require quite a bit of hammering out.

i’m also aware that what I’m suggesting probably goes against your natural instincts – Bitcoin is your baby and i’m sure you’re reluctant to give up control in any way. Also, I suppose some may see the involvement of such an organisation as “centralization”, which is obviously counter to the project’s goals. Just bear in mind though, that the responsibility for live code releases currently rests on just two individuals – that’s about as centralized as you can get. To share that responsibility among a board containing say 8-12 members actually represents a considerable move to de-centralize that power structure.
It’s important to precisely design the organisational structure that you need though because it is quite different to a standard commercial company – in particular, your directors’ primary obligation would be to the stakeholders – their duty is primarily to the stakeholders rather than shareholders, and the goal is to further the cause of Bitcoin in collaboration with the dev team and the stakeholders – it’s important that they would maintain a healthy separation from both sides, such that they were able offer an unbiased and un-emotional viewpoint. For that reason it’s potentially a conflict of interest to have a member who is both on the board and in the development team, but I suppose you could work around that by classifying that role as “technical director” and removing the responsibility to arbitrate disputes.

Furthermore, your board of directors would have a formally defined obligation to represent the views of the wider Bitcoin community. If you allow the board to decide these occasional contentious issues when they crop up, you’ll cut your own stress levels by an order of magnitude, and have much healthier and happier working relationships, and you’ll probably find that the decisions that are made are objectively better, and consequently the pace of development will increase.

If you give yourselves the breathing space to step back and think strategically for a while, and arrive at well-considered and well-planned course of action as a collaborative effort between the development team, the board, and the wider Bitcoin community. I do feel the development team has become somewhat blinkered, and has perhaps lost sight of the bigger picture. It’s worth remembering some humility – Bitcoin is a complex and multifaceted thing, and it’s both possible and likely that the development team would benefit from some expertise in other fields to augment their coding capabilities.

Rather than the occasional heated arguments between a small team of highly-involved developers, what you really want is a much wider and lower intensity kind of feedback. Sometimes it’s more important to hear what the end-user has got to say than to hear the competing opinion of another developer, particularly if neither developer has a fully comprehensive understanding of the end-user’s actual perspective. That’s why you need an external somewhat objective viewpoint to determine which of potentially many competing viewpoints is the most important one to hear – and it’s not always a programmer!

I can tell that the Bitcoin development have a rigorous and thorough commitment to producing good quality and “correct” code, and that’s very admirable, but I sense that perhaps it would help to inject a hint of pragmatism into that outlook – it’s worth remembering that you can construct a beautiful and amazing machine without and external input, but if nobody gets to see it, what use it is? All creative works (including software) must come into contact with the outside world if they are ever to really serve their purpose.

This is what it will take to keep Bitcoin going, and give it a fighting chance at breaking through into the mainstream.

As an example – one of the main barriers at the moment to using Bitcoin for quick purchases in a shop is that it’s simply a bit of a hassle to get your phone out and muck around with QR codes to transfer money to the shopkeep. For that, really what you need is a UX designer – someone with an instinctive understanding of how people interact with portable devices. That’s quite a different skill to software development, it’s always worth taking node of any outside input if it’s available – it can only make you stronger.

So anyway, that’s it – I guarantee you, this is the plan you need to follow if you’re going to make Bitcoin into a robust and permanent part of the online landscape. If you do not set up some form of organisation with oversight capabilities, able to assist with dispute resolution, I guarantee you will be stuck in this highly unstable and stressful state indefinitely.

I realise there are one or two hurdles – to begin with, I know the Bitcoin Foundation is effectively bankrupt, so you’re going to need some funding just to have the various documents drawn up and put the correct structure in place. You’ll know better than I do what funding options are available to you, but at a completely random guess I’d say you need about $10k. I think if you present a coherent plan to the community (the one I’ve just given you), and convince them it’s going to be implemented rigorously and properly, I think you’d easily be able to raise the funds directly from the community via something like Patreon. Or you may have various other funding options available – venture capital or a loan from or somewhere like that.

I think once you clearly establish the plan and make it clear that one of the purposes of the organisation is to provide a direct conduit between the developers and the stakeholders (ie your corporate partners like OKCoin, BitStamp etc) – they’ll be totally all over that, there’s a major benefit to them if they can get their feedback and suggestions heard – I’d expect the board to hold regular drop-in workshops for stakeholders to turn up and discuss their progress and experiences with the platform. That way you make the stakeholders feel valued, and potentially get some genuinely useful feedback, plus they’re obviously going to be much more happy to pay you large sums of money if they feel they’re getting something in return.

Basically you’d be building a consortium, not unlike the unicode consortium. I’d suggest a few different levels of membership, with one option being cheap enough that it’s basically a no-brainer even for the smallest of Blockchain start-ups – plus then obviously charge a bit more to the large corporations who can afford to pay.
Under that model I’d expect to turn over enough cash to fund a couple of full-time employees – I’m not entirely sure how the existing board have managed to bankrupt the organisation to the extent that it’s not even capable of that – just looking around at the number of companies that have some interest in Bitcoin, there’s literally hundreds, I’m pretty certain it’s a viable business model – either you’re not currently collecting membership fees from all the potential targets, or your operational expenses have run out of control for some reason, but I seem to remember reading in the board notes that there’s been some effort to reduce op-ex to basically $0?

If anyone’s going to fund this they’re going to need to be satisfactorily convinced they’re not just paying for the existing Bitcoin Foundation to piss away more money on well.. who knows what? There’s a lot of negativity towards that organisation and it’ll take a clear and visible break from the past in order to shake that negative reputation. The benefits when you pull it off though – well, they’ll seem like small miracles. Not only will you be happier and more comfortable while working, but you’ll also do a lot to boost confidence in the stability of the currency. This year is going to be a big year for Bitcoin – there’s a lot going on with new Blockchain startups etc – but the Bitcoin team itself needs to be in the best possible position to capitalize on that opportunity and push Bitcoin through to the next level of mass-market adoption.

I’d publish strict guidelines on who can be a director, and I’d make sure those guidelines contained at least the following two rules: 1) no criminal convictions 2) no conflict of interest with other business activities. It needs to be a bit of a public relations exercise too – if you’re bringing in unknown people for the board you’ve got to visibly introduce them to the community and give people a chance to get to know them. That’s how you rebuild trust after the history of misdemeanors that has befallen the beleaguered Bitcoin Foundation.

I think that’s the end of my advice now :) I’ll also give you a brief description of my credentials – I’ve been a programmer literally since I was 7 (started on BBC BASIC), I’m 30 now and know pretty much all the languages. A little over 5 years ago I set up a technology start-up, which was originally a custom fully-distributed web hosting platform, although shortly after I left the company they pivoted slightly and now they mainly focus on Docker containers – if you wish to check them out the URL is – my job title was Marketing Director, but I actually spent most of my time writing PHP and answering customer support requests – prior to that I worked for a number of years at a marketing company, as “Senior Network Manager”, which basically meant “Anything electronic, it’s yours”. I no longer have any commitments to either of those companies, I sold most of my shares in ClusterHQ a couple of years ago and no longer sit as a director. These days I’m doing what takes my fancy, which is currently using artificial intelligence and machine learning to auto-trade Bitcoin derivatives (at BitMEX and OKCoin) – I therefore have a vested interest in Bitcoin, but not a conflicting one, as I want the same thing you do – for it to be stable and reliable.

You can get some sense of the sorta stuff I get up to by checking out my website website, which is obviously here ^^^^^ Just don’t look at the HTML source code, I wrote it a long time ago before the days of HTML5 and it’s probably pretty awful by modern standards. ;)

I’m willing to help out with Bitcoin in whatever way I can, and I’m currently in the position where I could do that for free. I could probably make an effective contribution to the Bitcoin code base if I looked into it, but I’m already buried deep in neural nets, so I’d probably prefer not to take on any more programming work. I think I’d probably be more useful to Bitcoin in an advisory or guidance capacity anyway. I’d probably be up for standing as a director if a position is going, although that’s not why I’ve gone to the trouble of writing out all this advice – the reason I’ve gone to the trouble is because I’ve written loads of code to work with Bitcoin and it’d be extremely inconvenient to me if Bitcoin were to unexpectedly go belly-up. I’ve watched the various disputes and arguments in the Bitcoin team and I feel like I’ve got a fairly good understanding of what the root cause of the issue is, so I’m sharing what I know in the hope it’ll be useful :)


November 26th, 2015

Happy Fucking Thanksgiving

Sum Art 4 U.

You may call me Lord Kieran of Fiveways

October 31st, 2014

Just thought I’d share a little rant about something that’s been bugging me for a while.

Why is “title” always a required field on forms? I don’t have a title and I don’t wish to be referred to by one.

I think the annoyance started with the fact that whenever I get a new bank card I try to get them to write my name in the shortest form possible on the card, so I have less to type when paying for stuff online. The ideal for me would be for the card to say simply “K Simkin”. I think I’ve only ever achieved that once and it was with a business account (they actually listen to you if you’re a business).

I’ve set up several new accounts recently and each time I’ve specifically requested that my name be written “K Simkin”, or at least “Kieran Simkin”. What did I actually end up with? well.. looking through my wallet now I have: “Mr K D Simkin”, “Mr Kieran D Simkin”, and two times “Mr Kieran Simkin” . Why?!? Not only do they all contain a completely superfluous “Mr”, but they’re inconsistent! I just find it really bloody annoying. Why are they incapable of printing a card without some kind of title?

Then I filled out a feedback form for the BBC recently, and I noticed that “title” and “surname” were both required fields, but “first name” was not. I just find that really odd… As far as I’m concerned I don’t have a title, and I don’t wish to be called “Mr Simkin”, that’s just not a name that I identify with.

I am not “Mr Kieran Simkin”, I am just “Kieran Simkin”. That is the name that I identify myself with, and I find it kinda rude when people call me something which is specifically not what I wish to be called. It’s like if your name is David and some people insist on calling you “Dave”, even though you’ve never identified yourself as that (which is something that happens to my dad) – it’s just rude to not take the care to get someone’s name right. People spell my name wrong all the time too (both my first name and my surname), but that’s just something I’ve learned to live with.

I do object to being forced to choose a title all the time though, it’s just stupid and archaic. It’s a legacy from the feudal system of the 15th century – your title is like your rank in the social pyramid – it’s about deference to those above you in social status. I do not wish to be a part of such a social structure and I do not have even the tiniest sliver of respect for those who consider themselves in some way “higher up”.

Sure, if people wanna be called lord or lady or doctor or professor or whatever, that’s fine by me, but don’t insist that I assign myself a title too and play along with your silly little social construct. I will simply pick the most outrageous one that the form will allow me to get away with. Now I occasionally receive post addressed to Lord Kieran, or “Rt. Hon. Kieran Simkin”. On the BBC form there was no limit to what you could put in the title field (but you were required to fill it in), so in the title box I put “My name is Kieran, but you may call me ‘Your Highness’”, and I didn’t fill out the first name field because it wasn’t required.

I will be a fucking princess if I wanna be, and you’ve no right to tell me I’m not.

I think if I were female I’d find it even more annoying – why should you have to think about whether or not you want to reveal your marital status every time you fill out a form? I don’t get it. I’m still not fully sure which of the numerous different titles for women mean what, or how you’re supposed to pronounce them. All I know is that a fail-safe option is “Ms”. That said, I don’t think I’ve referred to anyone by their title since I was at school.

Apparently it’s rude to refer to someone by their first name if you don’t know them? Why? Who decided this and on what grounds? It’s completely arbitrary and stupid – a social convention that continues more out of inertia than any valid logical reason? I just don’t get it – I genuinely don’t understand any of it. To me, rudeness is saying “I don’t care about you” – like fiddling with your mobile phone while someone’s talking to you – you might as well just say “I’m not interested in what you’re saying, so I’m going to occupy myself with my phone instead” – to me that’s one of the rudest things you can do. Deference isn’t politeness, it’s subservience and submission.

I do not wish to submit.

If I call you by your name, it shows I care enough to have remembered it, that is an act of respect and politeness… referring to your based on some arbitrary social convention means nothing, it shows that I respect the social convention, not the person.

Well, I don’t respect social conventions if I can’t see a valid purpose for them, and I see no valid reason to refer to people by their title – the only purpose it serves is to differentiate the lords and ladies, the professors and doctors, politicians and royalty and help them to feel superior. I don’t see that as a good thing. I do not respect your inherited status, nor do I respect you for managing to stick at education long enough to earn some silly letters after your name. It means nothing to me. Literally nothing. It does not make you a better person, it doesn’t even necessarily mean you’re smarter than me, or more wealthy. Nothing, it means nothing. If you think your title means something, get over yourself. Nobody cares.

It just feels so archaic to me.. like something we should’ve got rid of long ago. There’s no other way to describe it – a ghost from a world that I don’t inhabit and never have. If society were a piece of software, I’d mark it “Depreciated, legacy support only – to be removed in the next release”.

Like I say, I have no problem with people calling themselves whatever they wish, I just object to being forced to observe a social convention that I do not like or understand. Call yourself what you want, but don’t try to force me to occupy a place in your outdated world view.

And while we’re at it.. some cultures don’t have a concept of a first name and surname, or they write the names in the opposite order. Some don’t even have a concept of family names at all. Quit forcing people into boxes, just let them be whatever they want to be. Why do you need so much information about me anyway? It’s unnecessary.

Like there’s always a load of fuss when Facebook or whoever add something new to the choice of genders or sexualities. Why should you have to choose from a list anyway? Why can’t it just be free text to enter whatever you like? Perhaps I consider myself mostly straight but not 100%, is there a word for that? Bisexual? but that kinda implies that it’s 50/50, which would be inaccurate. Maybe if I could put whatever I like, I’d put “straight with a kink”. Should I be grateful to Facebook because they’ve granted me permission to call myself a transsexual? or should I just be annoyed that Facebook have any say in the matter at all? I’m going with the latter.

Here’s an idea… get rid of “firstname”, “surname” and “title” and just replace it with a single box that says “What should we call you?”
If you absolutely must have the full name for some legal reason, then you could have one box that says “what’s your full name?” and another that says “what should we call you?”
That way it’s not culture specific, and if people insist on some absurd archaic title from the middle ages, then they’re free to say that, but the rest of us can move on and forget about such nonsense.

Until then, you may call me “Lord Kieran of Fiveways”. If that is not amenable to you then I will also accept “Your highness”, “Your godliness” or “Princess PonceyPants”. You may also call me “Your majesty”, but it’s considered slightly rude, except on Thursdays when only “Your majesty” or “Princess PonceyPants” are allowed. On Saturdays you must not address me at all, simply bow once slowly and then drop to your knees and prostrate yourself in front of me. I thank you for obeying my arbitrary social conventions, have a nice day.

Ed Miliband Pep Talk

May 22nd, 2014

Ed looked like he needed a bit of a pep talk and some encouragement, so I thought I’d send him some. I highly doubt it’ll make it as far as his desk, but oh well, it made me feel better.

Hi Mr. Miliband,
Re: Public Far to the Left of Labour Party Finds Poll
I would like to hear your comments on this article – it would seem to indicate that many voters support a much further left, socialist agenda. You now have a massive opportunity to restore this country to its rightful position as a socialist, liberal democracy.

When will you be anouncing concrete policies along these lines? I want to see renationalisation of… well, pretty much everything the Tories and New Labour have privatized, starting with the rail network and utility companies. I don’t just want price controls on energy, I want state ownership of all utilities. Your policies do not go far enough, and that is why you are failing to establish a strong lead over the Tories – because people don’t see you as being any different.

Now is your chance to begin to rectify the impact of decades of self-serving free-market arseholery in politics. People take your point on the cost of living crisis, but they want to see radical action to tackle it. I mean seriously radical – step changes are no longer sufficient.

What is stopping you from doing this? You may never get another opportunity. I think you’re generally a good bloke, but you seem to lack the confidence to choose a direction and push things towards it. Nobody expects you to be able to answer every question perfectly, but for god’s sake if you don’t know something, just say so, bluntly as a matter-of-fact. People want to see humanity in politicians, because it seems to have been lacking for so long. You can’t fake that – the only way to get people on your side is to be ruthlessly honest, both to yourself, and to the public.

Please don’t fight the general election on the basis of “at least we’re a little better than the Tories”. If you’re to achieve a landslide majority, we need way better than that.

Here’s a tip for a great publicity stunt – perform a citizen’s arrest on Blair. The grassroots liberal left will love you for it forever. Only joking, I know that’ll never happen, but it wouldn’t hurt to more vigorously distance yourself from that man.

My thoughts on democracy

May 22nd, 2014

What we have in this country (and in America) is supposedly a system of democracy. According to Wikipedia: “Democracy is a form of government in which all eligible citizens participate equally”.

By that definition; what we have isn’t democracy – clearly politicians and the media play a much bigger part in the process than the average Joe – it’s really a case of “some are more equal than others”. What we have is an elected oligarchy – power is concentrated in the hands of the few, but the public do have some say over who those people are, and the few are supposed to represent the views of the public. It doesn’t seem to be working very well though – the public feel they have limited influence over our elected representatives once they’re in power, and in many cases the choice at election day feels like a false one.

On election day, each person’s individual beliefs and choices must be condensed down into a selection between a number of candidates. In my case, my political views are most closely aligned with the Green party – but even then there’s a problem – well, two problems actually. The first is that, depending on the constituency you live in, the party who most closely represents your views may have absolutely no chance of winning your seat – so then you’re left with a choice between voting for what you believe in (and wasting your vote), or voting tactically to avoid the worse of two evils. If you live in a safe seat for one of the major parties; your vote is basically worthless anyway so you might as well not bother. Proportional representation (proper PR, not the weird, wonky version cooked up by the Lib Dems) would go some way towards fixing this problem, and in my case I was lucky anyway because I was in the Brighton Pavilion constituency and Caroline Lucas of the Green party actually did win their first ever seat here. However, the problem remains – the choice we’re offered at the ballot box is not a free choice, there are constraints placed upon it by our broken electoral system.

This leads me onto the second, more serious problem with our party political system – what if there is no party that is aligned perfectly with my views? In my case the issue is over Nuclear power – I agree with pretty much everything the Greens say, until it comes to the issue of Nuclear power; where I am strongly in favour, and the Greens are still mostly against. I feel strongly enough about this issue that it’s almost sufficient to disqualify the Greens from receiving my vote.

This puts me in the position where, no matter who I vote for, I still feel like I have to betray some of my own beliefs in order to do it. There is no candidate or party that I can vote for, and feel confident they will represent my views in the house of commons. This is leaving many ideological young people feeling completely disaffected by the whole political system, many view it as something that’s not designed to serve them, and don’t feel that their vote will have any influence – so they don’t vote. It’s sad, because these people do have political views, they do care, they’ve just lost hope in their democratic system to deliver any kind of engagement for them.

Our political choices are largely spoon-fed to us via the machinery of party politics, and the media’s portrayal of it. But even once we’ve made the decision to vote for a political party, and even if the political party we voted for wins, we often still don’t feel happy with the way they’ve represented us in parliament. Looking back at Blair’s first election victory in 1997, I remember people being very excited for change when he came into power, and I remember that excitement gradually draining away over the course of his reign, as we realised that many of his decisions were “antipathetic” to the views of those who elected him.

So, even once we’ve elected someone we feel happy with (such as Blair in 1997), we often don’t get what we bargained for. This is because politicians are people, and people can be influenced; by the media, by other governments, by lobbyists, by god, by anyone, and those people can get it wrong – both in terms of taking the wrong decisions, and also in terms of failing to represent the portion of the electorate who voted for you. Blair went to war against the wishes of most of his supporters, Clegg allowed the coalition to raise tuition fees, despite it being one of his primary manifesto commitments not to do that. It just leaves us feeling cheated by the whole system, and for some people it makes them withdraw from it – resulting in an even less democratic system.

Increasing numbers of people are disengaging with democracy and seeking alternative mechanisms to get their views across. I’m thinking about the Occupy movement, as well as the riots, and the fracking protestors, and the no-dash-for-gas protestors. In some cases it’s successful, others not so much. We’ve always had protest, of course, but there are times in history when protest reaches a climax, and the tectonic plates of society gradually begin sliding towards a new world order. I believe now is one of those times.

It’s all very well complaining about the state of the current system, and I’m sure I’m not the only one to do that – but not many people have a coherent solution – it was a critisism often levelled at the occupy movement – they knew they weren’t happy with how things were, but didn’t really know what to do to fix it.

Well I have a proposal that I would like to raise for consideration and debate – as I see it, the biggest problem with our democracy is that we’re voting for parties and personalities, not policies. We vote-in a party, and then have to trust them to act for us in the house of commons, often they let us down. What we need in order to fix this, is a system of voting whereby we vote for the policies, not the parties. I’m advocating a system in which every bill that passes through the house would trigger what is effectively a referendum.

In my proposed system, the political process would continue as it is, with parties elected and bills raised in the house in the way they are now, but at the end of each debate, when the division bell rang; instead of the archaic Harry Potter-esque ritual that occurs at the moment, the vote would instead be put to the public, via an online voting system. Members of the public would be able to vote on the bill, as if they were a member of the house of commons, but they’d be able to do it in a couple of minutes in their own homes from any internet-connected device – and the vote of the public would be binding. Government would become purely an administrative body (the Admin Bods, as Russell Brand puts it), all the decisions would be made democratically by the people, not a select ordained few.

This has been technically possible for a while, but I think we’re probably a long way off it actually being implemented. The electronic voting saga of the US elections and our government’s persistent failure to ever deliver an IT project that actually works will probably make this impossible for the foreseeable future. However, I believe it is the only route to true democracy. An elected dictatorship is not a democracy, a democracy is a society in which the people have the power of self-determination.

That we should be grateful for the chance to choose our dictator is absurd. Absurd and unnecessary. We do not need to nominate someone to make our decisions for us, we can make them ourselves. The internet makes this a practical reality – but as far as I’m aware, I’m the only one pointing this out.

You may say that the public is ill-equipped to be making important decisions about the future of the country, but I would counter that by saying that they can do no worse than the terrible decisions being made by our current political class. Furthermore, if decisions were fully representative, the bias towards the rich and powerful in politics would be removed – this would result in more decisions that benefit the “greater good”.

jQuery 1.9 takes away live() – I put it back

January 8th, 2014

Sometimes it’s annoying when a function you’re using all over your code is depreciated and then taken away, and the reasons for it having been taken away don’t warrant the effort required to go through and rewrite everything to work with the new function. For me, on a project I’m working on at the moment, that was the case with jQuery 1.9 and the live() function. The effort required to change every instance of ‘live()’ to ‘on()’ in our code simply wasn’t worth it – it doesn’t actually gain us anything perceivable in terms of a benefit, and would’ve taken a few hours to do. I set out to find a quicker solution – it seemed obvious that since the functionality of on() is basically equivalent to the functionality of live(), it should be relatively easy to write a wrapper function so that any call to live() becomes a call to the new on() function, without having to actually change any of those function calls.

Turns out, that’s exactly what jQuery 1.8 does for you, they just removed this functionality in 1.9. It’s therefore very trivial to put it back in, simply add this little block of code immediately after loading jQuery – you will then be able to carry on using live() in jQuery 1.9 (and probably beyond):

(function( $ ) {
	// jQuery 1.9 takes away live(), I puts it back. ~Kieran Simkin
	if (typeof($ != 'function') {
			live: function( types, data, fn ) {
				jQuery( this.context ).on( types, this.selector, data, fn );
				return this;

Apparently the economy is recovering…

August 14th, 2013

Inflation has fallen back from its recent ridiculously high rate, house prices are on the up again and unemployment continues to fall. Apparently this is sufficient for the Tory bastards to declare that the economy is “off life support”. Nevermind that inflation is still at 3%, with actual take-home pay falling in real terms, nevermind that the unemployment figures obscure the real truth that many people are being forced off benefits and into the grey market economy or into underpaid jobs which leave them deeper in poverty and forced into the hands of payday lenders, food banks and loan sharks.

This “recovery” is just manipulation of the figures by a devious government of con men, embezzlers, liars and cheats. These bastards are in league with the banksters and the corporate fat-cats in an unspoken conspiracy to concentrate wealth and power in the hands of the few. For a true recovery to happen; we need to take the vast fortunes these bastards have amassed at our expense, and redistribute them to the poor sods who’ve been screwed over by them. We need to take back democracy and make it work for the people, instead of allowing the continuing charade of false choice between a lineup of elitist criminal scumbags.

What I still don’t understand though, is why everyone seems to think rising house prices are a good thing – for people like me who’d love to get on the property ladder, but can’t, rising house prices is the last thing we want. What would absolutely make my day is if there was a complete collapse in the housing market, such that houses were selling for their actual value, rather than some arbitrarily inflated figure plucked out of an estate agent’s asshole.

Sure, a collapse of the housing bubble would leave a lot of people in negative equity – but at the end of the day it’s their fault for buying something at a price which they knew to be vastly overinflated. Can I interest you in a £200,000 tulip anyone? Greater fool theory is no way to do business. Besides, if people actually bought their house for the purpose it was intended – ie, to live in, and they can afford their mortgage repayments, then what does it matter if they’re in negative equity?

If you want to gamble on the markets, there are a plethora of fun and exciting financial derivatives you can buy. Go buy some CFDs, or binary options if you wanna tie your fortunes to the arbitrary value of some abstract financial entity, hell if you want an investment just go and buy some stock in a company or some government bonds. Just don’t buy a house as an investment, it’s not fair on the rest of us who just want somewhere to live that we can call our own.

If the government were actually building more social housing, which I would consider a very good thing, then the effect I would expect to see on the housing market is a decrease in prices. The persistently rising house prices are a symptom of a chronic lack of decent quality affordable housing – if you ask me that’s a negative indication of the state of the country, not a positive one – it’s simple supply and demand economics – supply is failing to meet demand, so the price is becoming inflated beyond the true value of the asset, due to its scarcity. Why do these asshat politicians persist in the delusion that rising house prices are a good thing?! That attitude is just pushing us deeper and deeper into a housing crisis and creating a neo-feudal system of property owners and serfs.

I don’t like being a serf.

When I talk about redistributing the wealth – I don’t mean directly putting it into the hands of the poor (although a little bit of that wouldn’t hurt). What I’m actually talking about is taking a large portion of the private fortunes amassed by these corporate hags and investing it in civic infrastructure and social projects that benefit everyone. New museums, libraries, parks, subsidized (and renationalized) public transport, free high speed broadband access for all (and a renationalized British Telecom), investments in renewable and carbon-free energy infrastructure (and a renationalisation of the energy and utility companies), a return to student grants rather than student loans, increased availability of grants and loans for small businesses – and of course a massive social housing building project.

All the public services that the Tories have sold off over the years to their corporate scumbag mates – let’s take them back and run them for the benefit of the public rather than for the benefit of a select few corporate fat-cats. Fuck buying back these services, let’s just take them – who cares if the companies who owned them go bust as a result? They deserve it, they’ve been screwing us for years.

Let’s just bulldoze the docklands and replace canary wharf with council housing. It’s the banksters who are the real leeches on our country, not benefits claimants.

Oh well, I can dream can’t I?

A message to Maplin Electronics

July 11th, 2013

When is Maplin going to reverse the trend of downsizing and closing the in-store parts counters?
In the Brighton store, the parts counter used to run along the entire side of the shop, with row after row of component drawers, and a helpful old guy who’d talk through your project with you and help you select the correct components.

Now Maplin is becoming more and more like a consumer electronics store, more like Dixons or PC World, and the parts counters are disappearing – they have been gradually for years.

We don’t need another consumer electronics store – and besides, that’s a dead-end business now anyway, people treat high-street electronics stores like showrooms where they go and try out the product, only to buy it later on Amazon or eBay for a lower price. There may be money in high-street consumer electronics right now, but there won’t be for much longer, trust me.

The one thing that cannot be replicated online is the face-to-face contact with an experienced electronics engineer on the parts counter. Plus I think it much less likely that people would go into Maplin, seek advice on a project and then go home and buy the parts online – if you’ve gone to the trouble of going to the store and discussing your project with the guy in there, you’re not going to then go home and put your parts list into Farnell and wait for the delivery, only to save a few pence if you’re lucky.

I think a return to your geek hobbyist roots is the only way Maplin will survive long-term – and it’s a growing market at the moment, with the Maker movement and suchlike – there’s an increasing interest in DIY electronics projects. The margins may be smaller on components than on ink cartridges, but I think if you were to fully stock your stores with a broad range of components (unlike the measly offering at the moment), and hire the experts to work on the parts counter, I think you could make up for the lower margins by increasing volumes. Plus you’d be selling to interested and knowledgeable hobbyists rather than idiots who haven’t realized you can get printer cartridges online for half the price you sell them in-store. Surely there’s gotta be more satisfaction selling a good product to an informed customer, rather than selling overpriced crap to morons?