Ello > Facebook

For various reasons I’m not going to be able to “quit Facebook” any time in the foreseeable future.

However I’ve found something that works pretty well and has a future I’m much more excited about: Ello

Feature wise, it does not match Facebook, and probably won’t have all the features I really want in a social network for at least a couple years.

However it has something else going for it, it’s a public benefit corporation.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Ello in the past couple of weeks and I think it’s fair to compare what they are doing to Wikipedia or Craigslist. If Ello can marshal just enough resources and users, with the goal of making the world a better place I think it will allows Ello to make fewer compromises and build a better experience that will ultimately attract a greater and greater share of users.

It’s possible of course that social networking is too different from other web applications like Wikipeida and Craigslist. Maybe it’s inherently more expensive. Maybe it is too expensive now, but someone day the future it won’t be.

Maybe all the money Facebook and it’s ilk have, will allow them to innovate so quickly no one will be able to create a compelling alternative. I doubt this though. I’m excited about Ello as it exists today and their ideas for the future. If Ello fails I think a similar non-profit-ish model will eventually succeed at becoming the dominate social networking platform.

If you’re interested, here’s how Ello describes what they are doing.

My personal plan is to become a Facebook lurker even more then I already am. If you’ve noticed I didn’t wish you happy birthday on Facebook, don’t be offended, it’s not personal. Maybe every now and then I’ll post a link to something I posted on Ello, just to remind people that’s where I am.

Right now Ello is invite only but I have some invites, let me know if you want one.

The Como Barber Shop Website

It’s been a few years since one of my personal projects has been ready for prime time, but the Como Barber Shop site finally is, at least, I hope it is, it’s live at least.

Craig’s Como Barber Shop has been my favorite place to get my hair cut for many years (it used to be Pete’s Barber Shop, Pete’s still there, but Craig is running the show now). I’ve always enjoyed going there but there’s been one minor issue. They do not take reservations and they tend to be very busy (probably because they’re so good at cutting hair). So sometimes I walk down there, and the wait is too long (of course I could always have just called, but I do not usually think of that, plus it’s just not my style). I should point out, that waiting for a hair cut at the Como Barber shop is usually a pretty good time, I just don’t always have the time.

This project began when, after waiting a while to get my hair cut, I finally got on the chair and I was chatting with Craig about what I do at Clockwork, which is just a couple of block’s from the barber shop. He told me he had a plan for a web site to solve the problem of not knowing how long the wait was going to be. His idea was actually a pretty good; he was going to put together a phisical model that represented the shop and use a webcam to create an over head view of the shop and he could put that on a website. As people came in the shop he could put down checkers or chess pieces (or something like that) so someone could look at the website and see how busy the shop was. This is exactly what I wanted. I told Craig it was a good idea.

A few days later I was working on learning the Meteor framework and I realized I could make a site like Craig describe pretty easily and it would probably be a good learning exercise. Of course, I was just going to use basic shapes to represent the barber and waiting chairs. I figured I’d probably make a little bit of progress, learn a bit and then move on to something else with out ever really getting that close to finishing.

A couple free evenings later I had most of the site built and a much better understanding of meteor, bootstrap and meteor-kitchen (which is a great tool for getting a meteor project off the ground quickly). I thought about showing Craig right away, but I got distracted and kinda forgot about it. Eventually though, I went back for my next haircut. I told him about it and he was pretty excited. I warned him it was not going to look that great and was not done yet, but I was going to be on a plane that next week and I’d see if I’d be able to wrap things up. Surprisingly I was.

Me and Craig worked out a “website for haircuts” deal. I got some feedback from Craig and things were set. Meteor makes it super easy to “deploy” a demo of a site, you may still be able to see the demo for this one como.meteor.com. It took a little more time for all the necessary arrangements to be made, but at last the site is live.

I’m pretty happy with how the site turned out considering I was still relatively new to the Meteor framework and bootstrap. It’s pretty amazing testament to both tools that I was able to build out something other then an example/tutorial project in such a short amount of time. If I’m a good software engineer it is definitely not because I’m the fastest. In total I spent about 20 hours or so on the project and that includes a lot of learning about the tools and libraries I used, communicating Craig and deployment (for deployment we used modulus.io, which so far anyway has also been a great experience).

I spend a lot of time thinking about the opportunities technology has to help us make better use of our time and resources. This website is a pretty small thing but if it helps lessen the “peak load” problem at the barber shop that will be very satisfying.

2014’s Best Books

The number of titles of books I read this year seems a little light, 30 books in 2013, only 18 in 2014. Looking over the list though, I feel a little better about my reading last year, there were some big books on the list.

Non-Fiction Politics and Theology (always a dangerous combination): A Farewell to Mars: An Evangelical Pastor’s Journey Toward the Biblical Gospel of Peace by Brian Zahnd. One could criticize it for being cavalier at times, but it’s covering a lot of ground in small book. It was much more then just an overview for me though, there were several new ideas, new metaphors and even some history that was new to me.

Fiction: The Storm Light Archives (series) by Brandon Sanderson. Only the first two books are out, I read them both, back to back, then pretty much when right into another series Sanderson finished called Mistborn. One of the longest audio book benders of 33 year life. I can not say these book changed my life but they were a lot of fun to read.

I’m looking forward to another year of reading.

Erin and Jachin’s 2014 Christmas Playlist

Time for this year’s Christmas Playlist. If this isn’t enough Christmas Music, you can always go back to previous years (2013, 2012, 2011, 2010).

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Adventures With Bitcoins: International Money Transfer

When I tell people about bitcoin and I want to give an example of something bitcoins are good for today I usually use the example of international money transfers. Recently I successfully transferred some money to my sister (about $50), who is currently living in South Korea. It was not exactly the smoothest experience ever but I think it demonstrates a real opportunity.

Here’s how we did it.

About a month and half ago I asked my sister if she’d be willing to give this a try. Using CoinMap.org I found a bitcoin ATM in Seoul. It was kinda far away from where she lived but she said she goes to that part of the city every so often. We figured it was worth a shot.

My sister has an iPhone, so I showed her ¢oinpunk which is a web based online wallet that works on iPhones. As of the writing of this post Apple has not been allowing cryptocurrency wallets in their App Store but there’s hope that this will change soon. Coinpunk is really well designed and it even lets you use the phone’s camera to scan QR codes, which is a pretty key feature. I sent her about $50 worth of bitcoins.

Over the next month in a half she tried to use the ATM once on a Sunday, and the coffee shop where the ATM is, was closed. She tried again, and it was down for the day because the people who were running the ATM were updating the software. During this visit she asked around at the coffee shop and got the contact information for the group that was running the ATM. They had a phone number, she called and they were pretty helpful and explained what was going on. The ATM is operated by a company called Coin Plug.

Third time was the charm, she finally made it on a day when the coffee shop was open and she said the ATM worked really well. She was able to exchange the Bitcoins I sent her for South Korean Won.

Given the volatility of bitcoin holding on to them for a month was a risky move on our part. If we really did not want to be exposed to the risks of a big price change we could have arranged a time in advance where she would be at the ATM. I’d buy some BTC using credit card on CoinBase (or many other such services). I’d transfer her some Bitcoins, she’d order a coffee, a couple minutes later she’d have the Bitcoins and be able to sell them through the ATM for KRW before she was done with her drink. I’ll bet we could complete a transfer in 15 minutes or less.

I did a quick (back of the envelope) calculation on how much we were charged in fees. I don’t think it was very much (less then $4, maybe less then $2). If I had used a credit card to buy Bitcoins immediately that would have costed a bit more.

Obviously this would be a lot easier if there were many Bitcoins ATM’s everywhere. Or even better, if regular ATMs supported buying and selling Bitcoins. If that days comes this will be pretty easy for anyone.

Korean BTC ATM