Defining Evil

This is an important word which serves to define the things we ought not to do. I choose to accept Philip Zimbardo’s very studied definition;

Evil is intentionally acting or causing others to act in a way that dehumanizes, harms, or kills innocent people.

The top two reasons people or groups become evil are the delegation of authority and othering.

Nazi soldiers tried for war crimes often said they “were just following orders.” This is the number one way people become evil according to Zimbardo’s research.

The number two way is Othering or using dehumanizing language to excuse evil actions. For example, “I hate stupid people” doesn’t really mean anything, and it is an easy way to give yourself an excuse to say or do any horrible thing to another person.

There is a REALLY GREAT interview of Zimbardo by Tim Ferriss which explores his decades of research into exactly how and why people or groups of people become evil versus heroic under pressure. I encourage everyone to listen to this important interview and try very hard to avoid being evil. If you would like a TL;DR, I gave a speech about it at Sierra College.

❤️ Tim Ferriss – The Four Hour Work Week

Tim Ferris - The Four Hour Work Week

A few years ago, I made an unusual friend. He was a traveling houseless graphic designer who worked very little and made far more money than I did. Everything he owned fit into a small backpack, and he was essentially in permanent vacation mode, while working online whenever he wanted to. He introduced many interesting themes in my life, but one of the best was Tim Ferriss.

Originally, I started listening to Tim Ferriss’ podcast. In it, he dissects world class performers to see how and why they do what they do. Many of his episodes have made my list of things to revisit again and again.

I keep rereading this book, and rewriting these first two paragraphs because of how challenging it is to describe my friend, Tim Ferriss, or what this book is about.

I had heard about this book in the podcast, but I finally decided to read it about a year ago. I was at burning man talking to a friend from the bay area about frustrations with my incompetent business partners and a project that seemed to be treading water and making no progress because of these disengaged absentee partners. My friend’s reply changed the way I think about business, “If you can build and sell products, why do you need these people?” I resolved in that moment to never accept a lack of progress; to do whatever it takes to accomplish my goals with or without people who need me to carry them along the way.

Simply put, this book is about radical individualism and entrepreneurship. These are two major themes in my life and career, so naturally I was eager to learn more.

If you are interested in how to build a lifestyle business that will finance endless adventure, free time, and early retirement, this book is for you. I give it an easy 10/10.

To call up a demon you must learn its name.

There is an idea I’ve been trying to articulate and synthesize for some time. I don’t think I accomplish it here, but this is a step in the right direction.
I think back to my favorite book series The Sprawl Trilogy, and to Peter Thiel’s book Zero to One, and an interview between Garry Kasparov and Sam Harris, and another interview of Kasparov at Google about Deep Mind. There is also a great video of Garry Kasparov talking with Peter Thiel about this and other ideas.
The basic idea is this; a human/group working together with a computer will always perform better than either a computer alone or a human/group working without a computer.
Even a poor chess player working together with a computer can beat any chess computer or any team of chess champions working without a computer.
In fact, Kasparov argues that a poor player working with a computer performs better than a great player working with a computer because the great player will try to use the machine to justify their own ideas, where the poor player will trust and defer to the machine’s calculations, only overriding the machine’s suggestions at edge cases when the machine is not seeing the whole picture.
Peter  Thiel in his book talks about how financial fraud detection at PayPal could only have happened this way. Whenever they devised a new algorithm to defeat fraud, the attackers would alter their strategy slightly until it started working again. Only a team of humans AND computers could analyze the vast streams of data and make decisions about what was and was not fraud. This idea gave rise to what is now Palantir, his new company which does just that; they focus on humans and algorithms working together to sift through large datasets and find important things in real time.
This idea immediately recalled the dream of the Tessier-Ashpool clan in my favorite novel, Neuromancer from The Sprawl Trilogy…
“You’re the other AI… What’s your name? … What is it?” The boy did a handstand in the surf, laughing. He walked on his hands, then flipped out of the water… “To call up a demon you must learn its name. Men dreamed that, once, but now it is real in another way. You know that, Case. Your business is to learn the names of programs, the long formal names, names the owners seek to conceal. True names … Neuromancer,” the boy said, slitting long gray eyes against the rising sun. “The lane to the land of the dead. Where you are, my friend. Marie-France, my lady, she prepared this road, but her lord choked her off before I could read the book of her days. Neuro from the nerves, the silver paths. Romancer. Necromancer. I call up the dead. But no, my friend,” and the boy did a little dance, brown feet printing the sand, “I am the dead, and their land.”
Earlier in the story, another character describes her dead mother Marie-France’s forgotten goals for their industrial clan…
“She dreamed of a state involving very little in the way of individual consciousness,” 3Jane was saying… “Animal bliss. I think she viewed the evolution of the forebrain as a sort of sidestep... “Only in certain heightened modes would an individual–a clan member–suffer the more painful aspects of self-awareness. . .”

❤️ Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy – The Ethical Slut

At burning man last year, I attended a wedding. There is some sweet 360 footage in a recent post about burning man.

The bride and groom gave unusual vows, promising to respect and never try to change one-another rather than the traditional vow of forsaking all others. And there were other differences from the traditional model.

I have long been consciously aware that monogamy is an unnatural cultural construct, and an artifact of the influence of bronze-age Abrahamic religion on modern culture. But as someone who has only ever practiced monogamy as a default, I was fascinated and talked at some length with each of the newlyweds over the course of the week. They and many others recommended I read this book to get a better understanding of what non-monogamy is and how it works, and the deeper fulfillment and satisfaction it can offer as a more natural and healthy alternative to monogamy.

I prefer audiobooks, and this one was very easy to find online, and read by the authors themselves.

It is a very intense read, and packed with information and concepts that need some reflecting and unpacking. It took me over a year to finish reading. I set it down to reflect and experiment at least a dozen times, and each time I started over at the beginning. This is my own unusual method and the only way I feel like I can really absorb all the content from something as intense and broad-reaching as this.

It doesn’t necessarily advocate for polyamory. It is more an exploration of what it means to be monogamous or to be polyamorous, and how to make rational choices about the kind of person you want to be, and then how to be that person well.

I decided to change almost every part of myself after reading this book.

I recommend also checking out this interview which I found closely related to this topic and helped me to parse much of the content.


The Ethical Slut

My Favorite Songs

Any time someone hears that I have been a professional DJ for over fourteen years, the first question they ask is what music I like. And it’s a question I almost never give a good answer to. So I decided to compile my very favorite songs here.

Coffee shop soundtrack by All Time Low doesn’t quite fit into the rest of this list (least of all this acoustic version), but this is my absolute all-time favorite song and band. I have loved them since the MySpace days. I still have their CDs and listen to this one all the time. I’m sure it sounds very cliche, but this song spoke to me and the conflicts I was facing in high school, and even today.

All time low aside, my next favorite song is this breakbeat house version of Sam Sparro’s Black and Gold remixed by DJ Komatic from the UK. This track is very minimal and progressive which is true of most of my favorites, but this one stands far out ahead in my mind.

Next is the Streets of Fandango remix of Dust in Gravity by Kreesha Turner. The vocals, lyrics, and music match perfectly to convey an eerie perspective on frustrations she has with her life and the futility of her struggles. Very good listen and a favorite for many years.

The original version of this song has a video which is also amazing and definitely worth checking out, but this Nero Remix of Blinded by the lights by The Streets is the version I love to play as a DJ.

The Doorly remix of Raindrops By Basement Jaxx is easily one of the best tracks I’ve heard. The original CD was amazing, but some of the tracks were remixed into apotheosis and really took Basement Jaxx to another level. This is one of those songs that I’ve revisited year after year and never get tired of.

From the same CD as the last track, the tone of this one has stuck with me since I first listened to the CD it came on. Basement Jaxx teamed up with Lightspeed Champion to produce My Turn. It feels warm and

[Working Draft] Smarter Sockets

This is something I looked long and hard for, before deciding to build it myself. Also, a school project pulled this off the shelf and added some urgency. Last year I completed a similar but very early proof-of-concept prototype just for the web-controlled relay board. It didn’t have the parallel shift registers, the relay board, or the actual sockets. I never finished it or came close to building an actual final product.

[Take a better picture]

This prototype built on an Arduino controlled relay board which in turn drove a series of electrical sockets controlled by a web page over an Ethernet connection. [Feature link to commits where I shared this with the Arduino community.] But it also let’s you monitor consumption and prevents outages with a battery backup.

This project combines these things;

There is not currently any product that does this which I have been able to find. And as a minimalist who is committed to conserving energy, being independent, and being aware of my footprint, I was really hoping to find something like this out there.

Improving on Kill-A-Watt

Kill-a-watt is a very interesting product which nevertheless has some huge development opportunities.

It lets you see power usage for a single electric socket. There are several problems with this.

For one, it only works for one socket.

Two, it doesn’t let you see the data except through the limited interface. There are no graphs of usage over time and there is no web accessibility for the data.

Expanding on this idea, each socket on my new device will allow you to see power consumption over time. There will be a clean web-based interface which lets you see any unusual spikes and be responsible with your energy consumption. This will pair well with the smart-socket feature which will enable you to turn things off when you are not using them or when they are using too much energy.

Improving on Smart-Sockets

Smart sockets are very limited. They typically offer only one socket, and do not offer usage metrics. Also, they feature very poorly implemented security and control software.

[Explore Steve Gibson’s IoT security reviews]

Improving on these widespread industry problems will be an important and valuable step.

At the hardware level, offering multiple smart-sockets is already a huge improvement, as is offering usage metrics, but there is room to improve further. Another major feature of this project is feature granularity. I want to make sure and give enough detail so that developers can create multiple physical formats. Maybe you only want one socket, not eight. Why not?

There is no reason this system can not fit into a wall socket and replace the old-fashioned ones you already have. Imagine removing the mess of plugging devices into devices into the wall, and just put the smart-socket inside the wall.

[include diagram]

Including a UPS (Might take this out)

I started with this very thorough tutorial which does a great job of explaining the terms and options that differentiate existing UPS products.

I found a discarded 2kw UPS with a dead logic board at a computer repair shop which I was able to get for free. All 2 kilowatts of sealed lead-acid batteries worked fine, it was just a bad control board. :] This was exceptionally lucky, but you may be able to find something similar if you look.

I had also explored scavenging 18650 battery cells. These are very popular for DIY UPS builders. This great alternative option would also probably scale better than sealed lead-acid and charge or discharge much faster. There are lots of places like battery stores that will happily give you free, “dead” laptop batteries full of these cells. Typically it is just the control board and maybe one or two of a half-dozen cells which is actually bad. The rest will still work fine in most cases.

Choosing a UPS Paradigm

The linked tutorial describes three main types of UPS. I chose the Online type, “The Online UPS unit completely isolates the devices attached to it from the wall power. Instead of jumping into action at the first sign of power out or voltage regulation issues like the Standby and Line-Interactive units, the Online UPS unit continuously filters the wall power through the battery system. Because the attached electronics run completely off the battery bank (which is being perpetually topped off by the external power supply), there is never a single millisecond of power interruption when there is power loss or voltage regulation issues. The Online UPS unit, then, is effectively an electronic firewall between your devices and the outside world, scrubbing and stabilizing all the electricity your devices are ever exposed to.”

If it’s more expensive, why choose this type?

The goal of this project is radical energy independence. I want this to be expandable and compatible with eventual solar or wind power generation. This basically fills the same role as a Tesla Powerwall.

For reference, I found a great online community focused on cloning the Tesla Powerwall. There are lots of great ideas and examples in there.

Future Direction

There are tons of potential directions the project could go. For example, the smart-sockets could easily include powerline-wifi-adapters to replace wifi access points and greatly increase the wifi availability in your home while eliminating obnoxious and unnecessary hardware and wires.


This project includes a public repository of all the code and plans which anyone can contribute to, and a forum for discussing it. I will try to make it fairly modular and platform-agnostic so that people can use different hardware and still have a safe and secure system.

Building a MVP/POC


The core of the project is an Arduino/compatible processor and a network stack. This can be Wifi or Ethernet. There are some great examples which combine these parts together and even include the relay board if you would rather use that.

I will be using the brand-name Arduino Uno and the Arduino Ethernet Shield, only because I already had these. If I was buying them for this project, I would probably use the one I linked to in the previous paragraph because Wifi would be a great feature for this project.

This is going to take a lot of different parts which need to connect to the Arduino. We need to use a parallel shift register (Explanation) in order to control lots of things with just a few pins.

A simple relay driver board does the heavy lifting of turning the sockets on and off.

Measuring the current through each socket will require a series of special sensors wired inline and then connected to the Arduino. Alternatively, there are several other examples I am exploring for this part.

The main power will come from the battery bank and go through a cigarette lighter dc-ac converter before hitting the gfci socket and then the relay board. This makes the whole thing very safe because there are several circuit breakers built into each of these levels.

The battery bank will be charged by a standard ATX PC power supply which will automatically be turned on and off by the Arduino when the power level requires it. (This means we only get seven sockets since one of the eight relays will control the charging supply.

Future Steps

The most obvious future step would be making an actual ready-to-order product which people can buy. This would require a great deal of funding since there would be regulatory requirements and manufacturing costs, but I really think this is something people would buy.

If people are willing to pay $30 or more for only a single smart-socket which does not measure usage, it makes a lot of sense that people would be willing to pay even more for more features and expandability in a device which offers multiple sockets with valuable metrics about usage.

Startup 1: Securities Science

This is part of a series on Building 12 Startups in 12 Months.

This is number one: Securities.Science!

What Inspired This Project?

My first startup in the series is Securities.Science. It lets users run queries against historic stock trading data in order to test theories and strategies. All data is public and everyone can see the work that others are doing.

This started with my coworker Luke Leggio and I trying to collaborate on developing strategies for trading leveraged commodity ETFs on RobinHood. I was very frustrated with the few tools and communities that exist for this purpose.

I had tried Openfolio which has since pivoted to a totally different kind of product. At the time, they let you share your trading activity and results with others and compare to how their strategies worked out for them. The problem was that it was terribly buggy and often reported things incorrectly. I wrote to their support people several times, even offering to do the work of fixing their products for them because the problems were so obvious. (Numbers being negative instead of positive when pulled from certain APIs, etc.) Some features like search and viewing the top performers didn’t work at all. They had no interest in making their product work, so I decided to make my own as an alternative.

Securities.Science automatically pulls data from various public APIs and allow users to write SQL queries that implement securities trading strategies. Their queries will pair with simple visualization tools in order to show how each strategy works over time.

First Steps

The site is now live, and the source code is all available on Github. Anyone can sign up for free and start running queries against historic datasets.

I have included lots of different tickers including all of the leveraged commodity ETFs which I follow, along with all the top stocks millennials like according to Business Insider. Adding more is trivially easy, but I didn’t want to just add thousands of tickers because of the maintenance overhead. And because most of them are not particularly interesting.

I wrote this as a plugin for Astria, a simple web application framework I have been developing for almost a decade. The code is very simple and hopefully distilled to the minimum necessary to explain the content. Check it out!

Next Steps

There are a few next steps that jump out at me if this finds adoption.

Expanded Datasets

The page describing available data encourages the user to reach out to me if they want to see any additional data sources. Eventually, users should be able to add data sources for whatever they want with simple tools.

Content Development

Scraping and collating data is one thing, but presenting it in a format which brings in organic traffic is a separate art. Other news and data sources relating to each stock could be integrated so that users can focus on particular industries, commodities, or ETFs and get more information than just trading data.

Execution Integration

There are lots of great APIs which would allow integration with stock brokerages so that users can set up triggers for buying and selling based on their models in the app. It would be fun to add that later.

Machine Learning and Other Advanced Analytics

The first version of the product only features SQL queries for strategy development. This enables lots of interesting and basic strategies to be implemented and tested, but adding machine learning and other advanced analytics features would be another order of magnitude in capability for users.


❤️ [Podcast][Must Listen] Tim Ferriss – Exploring Smart Drugs, Fasting, and Fat Loss — Dr. Rhonda Patrick

This episode has an unbelievable amount of information. The Guest is Dr. Rhonda Patrick, who Tim describes as, “an American biochemist and scientist.” She has done extensive research and work in the fields of the cellular biology, genetics, nutrition, and nootropics. She views aging as a disease to be treated, and elaborates in depth on all of these topics.

There were a few big takeaways right off the bat;

  • Regular sauna use is really really good for you, for a huge number of well researched reasons.
  • There is a tremendous amount of research around the influence of genetics on nutrition, and the fact that nutrition works differently for everyone. Having recently synthesized my genome with 23AndMe, I was very interested in her comments about various services which will allow you to bring over your genome for dietary analysis. This is something I will need to look in to.
  • Nootropics or any drugs which work by prevent reuptake in the brain cause down-regulation, or the reduced capacity of the brain to deal with normal levels of those neurotransmitters. She goes in depth into the implications of this and her conclusions about how to use those.
  • NSAIDs are really really bad for you. I had no idea about the mountain of recent research linking them to everything from stroke to heart attacks. As someone who takes them almost every day, I will certainly stop doing that. She suggests several great, healthy, natural alternatives.
  • Sulforaphane is very important and I should eat a lot more of it, (ie. Broccoli). It is very important for many cellular processes which prevent and repair the damage that leads to aging. It also drives the growth of new neurons and body systems which ward off insects.
  • She goes in depth into her experience with nootropics and dietary supplements and the ones she takes every day. I will need to look further into these.
Fasting and time-restricted diets are very good for cells and for fighting the kind of damage that leads to aging.

Fasting makes your body consume sick cells for energy at a much higher rate than normal, decreasing the chances for cancer and improving the function of the tissues and organs composed of these cells.

This goes hand in hand with cellular genesis, or the creation of new cells which also speeds up during fasting. These new cells are more efficient and functional than the old, less-functional cells which are converted to energy.

Research also shows that animals which eat during a smaller window like 10 hours per day have pervasive improvements in function of systems all over the body from the mitochondria to the digestive system. In tests with mice, this also leads to up to 20% longer lifespan.


There was way too much information to absorb in a continuous stream. A few minutes in, I found myself enumerating the lenses I would need to re-listen through:

  • Nootropics and other good supplements
  • Fasting and time-restricted eating
  • Cellular health and rejuvenation and its impact on cognitive performance and long-term decline


I will be re-listening to this episode a number of times in the next few months and expanding on this post. For now, it has inspired me to start eating during a smaller window, for now just ten hours. This is the largest window she says will likely still confer the benefits of time-restricted diet.

Stay tuned for updates!



Diverse Monetization

Monetization is what frees content creators to have the time to develop and publish.

At the same time, it kind of feels like a dirty word. It can become the driving force behind the content which seems universally bad, and it is potentially a large single-point of failure in your business model.

By Jeff Belmonte from Cuiabá, Brazil – Contando Dinheiro, CC BY 2.0, Link

An aspiring social media entrepreneur who worked his way to 20k Instagram followers recently told me that he wants to find some way of monetizing. I replied that this should have come first. Who knows who these followers are, much less whether they would be in the demographic for some particular product or service?

Social media monetization strikes me as a nonstarter if the goal is that the content you create will generate at least enough revenue to allow you to create more.

What then? Blogging and services.

I have been writing this blog for years and there are hundreds of posts which get regular organic traffic, and I have a few other domains with some traffic which I could probably grow. I think my biggest opportunity will be this year with my 12 Startups in 12 Months project. I will focus on monetization as a major factor in each of these projects, and maybe even work on monetizing this blog at some point.

I will share my lessons so that anyone who is interested can reap the benefits of these experiments.

One thing that feels really important to me is diversifying your monetization channels. Monetizing with just one ad network or product gives you a huge single-point of failure. I will focus on developing diverse revenue streams for each project, and elaborate on how that works out for me.

Stay Tuned!

The Levels Challenge

Pieter Levels has been a very inspirational figure for me. I have been thinking a lot about his series of blog posts, “Building 12 Startups in 12 Months.”

I really enjoyed reading these, and I really liked his definition of what a startup is. In this context, a minimum-viable-product which is publically available for people to use online. That definition is a huge accomplishment. Creating something is the most important and valuable thing we can do. In fact, there are whole ideological identities based on this idea. Another Peter, Peter Thiel, calls this Zero To One, the title of his book; the act of creating something that has never existed before. He calls it the miracle that we will need to accomplish over and over in order if we want the future to be better than today.

Like many of us, I am often overcome by choice-paralysis over all the options I have, and end up doing nothing because I am overwhelmed by all the ideas I come up with.

Obviously there is a lot more to building a company then the MVP, but this wasn’t about building some global zaibatsu like Facebook or Google in his spare time, it was about starting something. Pieter’s 12 startups may turn into successful and self-sustaining businesses, but that wasn’t necessarily his goal. It was about shipping a product.

Like most engineers I know, I have a long list of “someday” projects and ideas. I decided to take a long look at that list and distill it down to a few of the best, easiest to start projects in order to challenge myself to stop adding things to the list and start checking things off the list.

Looking at the startup products Pieter built during his 12 month challenge, a lot of them do not seem very complicated or likely to become revenue-producing, but the point is that he built them. AND that at least some of them have some chance of making money, and one or two of them stand a good chance of making a lot of money. He often comments that he makes over $10k/month from some of these projects and that that is so simple and easy an accomplishment that literally anyone ought to be able to do it.