• Grassroots Securities Deregulation


    In July, I blogged
    about the

    "crowdfunding exemption" petition, File No. 4-605
    which the SEC had just posted to their website. The petition seeks to
    allow people to solicit investment of up to $100,000 in amounts capped
    at $100 without having to register with either the SEC or their state's
    department of corporations (a process which can cost $50,000 and up).
    Many people, myself included, believe that this simple exemption, which
    the SEC has the authority to allow, presents minimal risk to investors
    and would have many positive effects on innovation, culture,
    opportunity, the economy, etc.

    The fun news is, the proposal seems to be gaining traction! It turns out
    that others have been advocating similar exemptions, including Michael Shuman,
    author of

    Going Local

    The Small-Mart Revolution
    . And now,
    the American Sustainable Business Council,
    a lobbying and advocacy group with many right-on members, has decided to
    support SEC rulemaking petition 4-605 as part of a new "Sustainable
    Economic Development" campaign, which will also encourage the SBA (Small
    Business Administration) to promote "TBL" accounting (Triple Bottom
    Line: financial, labor, and environmental). But note that the ASBC's
    new campaign will be on their back burner (and won't appear on their
    website) until January or so, because they're currently focused on
    other efforts, which require the current Congress during its remaining
    time in session.


  • SEC Crowdfunding Exemption action: File No. 4-605


    When I guestblogged here last year, I wrote about crowdfunded securities. The upshot was that crowdsourcing platforms like Kickstarter can't support investment, because that's illegal; they can only offer tiered "perks" for donations at various levels. But I (and others) believe that crowdfunded securities should be legal without expensive SEC registration under certain conditions, starting with if individual investment is capped at a relatively low figure, like $100.

    In that post, I also floated the idea of crowdfunding a campaign to pursue such a "crowdfunding exemption." I invited people to contact me if they wanted to keep up with such efforts, and got nice feedback from a bunch of folks. Encouraged, I dug in some more and found out that getting something like this going would actually be easier than I thought. First of all, the SEC has the authority to rewrite its own regulations, without any congressional review (which sounds like a recipe for corruption, and indeed…). Second, the SEC, via its website, lets anyone submit Petitions for Rulemaking and solicits comments on these petitions. You send it, and they will post it– and then also post all the comments they receive. This quiet backwater of the SEC's website struck me as good territory for some crowd action.

    Now, a half year later, all the pieces are in place. A campaign on IndieGoGo quickly raised the money to fund the Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC) to draft the petition, which was completed last week. I'm thrilled at how the petition came out– it's very well researched and argued, and joy to read. The SELC sent the petition to the SEC last Thursday, and as of this morning, the SEC has posted it to their website, as File No. 4-605. You can see the list of funders in the first footnote, at the bottom of page 1. Huzzah!


  • Farewell!

    My guestblogging experience here has been wonderful, thank you all! I've learned a lot, made some neat connections, and gotten many pointers for learning more and doing more about things I'm interested in. This pleases me greatly.

    I tried to pursue what Cory has called "That feeling of trepidation, of being slightly out of control, of taking a risk, of not knowing whether you are going to crash and burn." I hope that this showed, and that the results were enjoyable to you. I think that if you're not continuously checking your sanity, testing if you're correct or deluded about how your efforts might bounce off of the real world, then you're limiting yourself.

    Here it goes, one last post into the ether– watch it bounce: boing, boing, boing, boing, boing…


  • Joke Band Respect: Surf Punks, Upper Crust

    Many people, including close friends and family of mine, hate joke bands. I understand the sentiment. Music has an almost sacred ability to break through left-brained chatter, reconnect you to the present and to emotional truth, and lift your spirits– so it seems almost profane to turn the whole thing into a joke– to drag it back into the domain of distancing, cleverness, and the inauthentic. But some joke bands have meant a lot to me, and I sincerely love them– with The Surf Punks and The Upper Crust at the top of the list.


  • Approaches To A Just World Order

    I was at Columbia the same time that Barack Obama was there– he was a senior when I was a freshman– and although I never met him, I would guess that we have a formative experience in common: Saul Mendlovitz's "Approaches To A Just World Order" class.

    Some upperclassmen pals whom I sang with clued me into this class, which had a cult following on campus. It was a huge lecture course out of the Political Science department, but people from all majors took it– and that's how Professor Mendlovitz wanted it. The class was basically about solving great problems on a global scale, formulating optimal world governance– in other words, Saving The World. Mendlovitz openly described his class as indoctrination, and he often repeated this point: You young people, sitting in this room, are the leaders of tomorrow. You will inherit the world some day, and you will be able to change it and make it better. So aim high– agree that this is what you want to do, know that you can, conspire to make it happen, and stay true to your vision.


  • Welcome to the See-Easy

    Pervasive surveillance is a funny thing, and I wonder how it will affect dress. All those cameras are sharpening the difference between public and private spaces, so how about this scenario:

    The beautiful people, who feel the most threat from paparazzi, bored security guards, and network-based voyeurs, cover up and disguise themselves in public places. Others soon follow the trendsetters, adopting the glamor of incognito. As status indicators, the well-toned face and body that come from the ample leisure time give way (outside of private spaces or posted no-camera zones) to a language of elegant, concealing garments, like you see in more modest countries.


  • The Great Game Designer

    Allow me to dive in over my head here– countless BB readers know way more about games than I do, and I want to learn from them/you. I'm fascinated at how complexity emerges from certain initial conditions, and independent actors competing within those conditions– i.e. from a game's rules and its players. It's a magic meta-formula that underlies a zillion things.

    Some day we may discover a formal test for playability– whether a setup will go nowhere or explode into interestingness. (Which is probably also a function of mental capacity– a greater intelligence might find chess as boring as we find Tic-Tac-Toe.) If and when these meta-rules are understood, and we can do things like simulate evolution to levels of real-life complexity, it should convince at least a few more evolution deniers. In Darwin's day, when timekeeping was a leading geek-magnet, theologists described God as the Great Watchmaker. If there is a God, I think "The Great Game Designer" would be more accurate.


  • Adventures in Ex Ante Crowdfunded Securities Law

    I'm thrilled at the success of Kickstarter and Spot.Us, which partly fulfill a longtime dream scheme of mine. These sites are primary sources of great stuff, and you should check them out if you aren't already familiar with them. The idea behind both is to help people raise funds for ideas that they want to pursue; Kickstarter is designed for any personal projects, and Spot.Us supports journalism.

    Donors can get a little something in return through these sites if the projects they fund come to fruition, like a signed copy of a book that's produced (Kickstarter), or reimbursement in credit if a news organization buys the story (Spot.Us). But what if a crowdfunding site could offer donors a piece of the action, not just some thank-you goodies? That's what I would want, and I don't think I'm alone. I want investors for my schemes, not patrons, and if people support me to do something that flies, it would only please me to give them a cut.


  • Disney English

    Guestblogger Paul Spinrad is a freelance writer/editor, and is Projects Editor for MAKE magazine. He is the author of The VJ Book and The Re/Search Guide to Bodily Fluids, and was an early contributor to bOING bOING when it was an online zine. He lives in San Francisco. 

    Last year, cultural empire Disney launched its first "Disney English" school for kids in Shanghai, China. It would be a big win for Disney if they could own English language learning in the non-English speaking world. Any Disney English schools in areas where their presence might be controversial could be constructed like castles, with real moats! Chinese TV news clip here and Disney English website here.

  • My Cousin Adam (The Late Paul Cotton)

    Guestblogger Paul Spinrad is a freelance writer/editor, and is Projects Editor for MAKE magazine. He is the author of The VJ Book and The Re/Search Guide to Bodily Fluids, and was an early contributor to bOING bOING when it was an online zine. He lives in San Francisco. 


    I have a living cousin who was an early conceptual and performance artist, and I think his work is wonderful. His given name is Paul Cotton, but now he goes by adam, or "adam (The Late Paul Cotton)."

    adam studied sculpture at UC Berkeley in the 1960's, and for his final thesis project he submitted his own naked body in a 5-piece unpainted canvas business suit, framed (in a sense) by numerous paper pathways a chain of letters leading into the exhibit room from the halls and walkways outside.

    Since then, his work has always been about the body and presence, and also laden with puns, mythology and religion, and plays between high and low culture. His communiques are called "Art Link-Letters" for the way they link the reader to art, and link art of the body to the world of letters. His "Zippily Boo-Duh" costume persona has wings on his feet to invoke Hermes, who bridges different worlds: stasis and revolution, the dead past and the eternal present, the Alphabet and the Goddess.

    Like many others during the Sixties, adam was inspired by Norman O. Brown, whose books called for breaking free of the past and ending repression. But while others merely discussed Brown, adam enacted two performances wherein he entered Brown's classroom lectures at UC Santa Cruz. In the traditional sense, he did this uninvited, but in another sense, he was invited by everything that Brown stood for in his writing. You can see adam's video documentation of his second attempt, "The Second Norman Invasion," here: Part 1, 9:18 (includes long title sequence) / Part 2, 8:51.


  • Fact-Checkers and Certified Public Logicians

    Guestblogger Paul Spinrad is a freelance writer/editor, and is Projects Editor for MAKE magazine. He is the author of The VJ Book and The Re/Search Guide to Bodily Fluids, and was an early contributor to bOING bOING when it was an online zine. He lives in San Francisco.

    It's fantastic that so much written knowledge is becoming generally accessible and cross-linked these days, but this is just an intermediate stage– a universal library on the way to becoming a universal brain. The missing piece is encoding the underlying meaning of the stored text, the deep-structure logic behind it. It's one of the oldest challenges in Computer Science, and there has been lots of progress and companies dedicated to doing this. Powerset, for example, has software that has parsed and can answer questions from all of Wikipedia.

    The thing is, you really still need a person to get it most reliably right, because people understand the way the world works. Luckily, we already have people whose job is very close to doing this already– they're called fact-checkers or researchers, and they work for every reputable publication.


  • Tom Geisler's Inventions

    Guestblogger Paul Spinrad is a freelance writer/editor, and is Projects Editor for MAKE magazine. He is the author of The VJ Book and The Re/Search Guide to Bodily Fluids, and was an early contributor to bOING bOING when it was an online zine. He lives in San Francisco.

    geisler-clip I love Tom Geisler's art illustrations, which combine the life-improving spirit of chindogu with the obsessive precision of antique technical drawings (he's also a technical illustrator). Tom is working on a book, "Reduce. Reuse. Reinvent: Free Patents That Will Save Our Galaxy," and here's some material from it, including an hilarious series of pages that illustrate the inventor's personal history.

    Reduce. Reuse. Reinvent.

  • Sing-Along Jesus Christ Superstar

    Guestblogger Paul Spinrad is a freelance writer/editor with Catholic interests, and is Projects Editor for MAKE magazine. He is the author of The VJ Book and The Re/Search Guide to Bodily Fluids, and was an early contributor to bOING bOING when it was an online zine. He lives in San Francisco.

    As a kid, I liked classical and easy listening music, not the rock or disco that other kids listened to. But at age 12 or 13, I was, for some reason, moved to tape Jesus Christ Superstar off of the radio. I played that cassette over and over again, memorized the whole show, then kept playing it and singing along whenever I got the chance. I played it loud, too, turning the volume up higher than I'd ever wanted to before. I was cranking JCS one evening when my dad came home from work. With an expression of curiosity, he asked me why I had the music up so loud. I said "I don't know," and then he asked if I'd gotten the idea from anywhere. I told him no, and he said, "Hmm– interesting!" He didn't disapprove, but I got the sense that he recognized something happening to me.

    JCS taught me the story of Jesus, which as a jewish boy in Los Angeles, I never knew. It had a huge impact on me. Ever since, I've looked at the world in terms of Jesus vs. Rome, righteous rebellion vs. institutional power, hippie values vs. capitalist values, love vs. control. As far as I'm concerned, the "hippie Jesus" of the 1960s and early 1970s is the true Jesus (and centuries of art bear me out on this, at least superficially). "Jesus Was A Hippie" — that's the tagline for my imaginary ad campaign to take Christianity back from all the high-power imposters and restore it to its apolitical, communitarian roots.

    Continued after the jump 


  • Ayn Rand: The Wired Interview (1998)

    Guestblogger Paul Spinrad is a freelance writer/editor with Catholic interests, and is Projects Editor for MAKE magazine. He is the author of The VJ Book and The Re/Search Guide to Bodily Fluids, and was an early contributor to bOING bOING when it was an online zine. He lives in San Francisco.

    I'm a month late on this, for the spotlight of public attention, but
    I have an Ayn Rand story, too. 11 years ago I blind-pitched
    Wired magazine an ill-defined article on Rand. In response, they
    asked me to write an "interview" with her, where I would come up with
    all of the questions and then cobble together her answers from things
    that she had written and said (she died in 1982). Fun! Around the same
    time, they published similar "interviews" with Nicola Tesla and Mark
    Twain under the rubric "The Wired Living Archive."

    I had a great time researching and writing it, and although they
    never published it, they must have seen something they liked in it
    because I started working at Wired the following year. Meanwhile I
    never did anything with it. But re-reading it now, I like the added
    time-trip aspect of it. The idea of the article was to make Rand
    relevant to the current day, of course, but things were different in
    1998. Like, the biggest newsmaker was Monica Lewinsky (hmm… I didn't
    see much 10th Anniversary coverage of that), and personally, things like
    the Critical Mass bicycle demonstration had a much larger role in my
    life than they do today.

    Rand was a contradiction-filled woman who hated all contradictions, and
    whatever fiery, petite actress can succeed in bringing this complex
    character to life, in the inevitable major studio biopic, is pretty much
    guaranteed an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. Meanwhile, here's my
    attempt at bringing Ms. Rand to life.

    Note that it's long– over 4000 words, and written for an editor to cut down. Sources for all quotations are noted as abbreviations inline, with full titles listed at the end.


  • Based on a True Story

    Guestblogger Paul Spinrad is a freelance writer/editor, and is Projects Editor for MAKE magazine. He is the author of The VJ Book and The Re/Search Guide to Bodily Fluids, and was an early contributor to bOING bOING when it was an online zine. He lives in San Francisco. 

    Here's my idea for a Monty Python And The Holy Grail-like opening title sequence. The following titles fade in and are crossed out one by one:

    • A True Story
    • Based On A True Story
    • Inspired By A True Story
    • Inspired By Real Events
    • Inspired By Reality
    • Partially Inspired By Reality

    I've argued here before that storytelling, like language itself, is a compression scheme– ideally, you leave out everything that doesn't matter or doesn't in some way contribute to the whole. If you're decompressing the story– reading, listening to, or watching it– the first thing you need to know is, is this true? You need to know where to put it in your head, whether to incorporate it into the model you use to navigate the real world, or whether it should go into the "not true" bin. Our survival depends on this distinction.

    Meanwhile, on the storyteller's side, there are many reasons to blur true and not-true– particularly, I think, if a story is being told for profit or to maintain of power relationships. Stories interpreted as real demand more attention and more likely to influence people's actions than fictional stories.

    There was an interesting discussion here (in response to a great piece by Susannah Breslin) about the future of porn video when CGI can simulate humans realistically. Yes, there is an "uncanny valley" problem where the simulations are not quite realistic enough, but let's assume it will be overcome. My prediction is that there will still need to be living, breathing porn stars in the world, because viewers need something to build a fantasy around, no matter how remote. Recall the parade scene at the end of National Lampoon's Animal House, when a college cheerleader flies through a window and lands on the bed of a teenage boy reading a porno magazine. He says, "Thank you, God!" It's funny because it's true– or so I am told. 

    It's true that people can become obsessed with animated fictional characters, and for them the real/unreal issue doesn't matter (or works the other way). But those of us with more "stalker" type personalities want to be able to think, "I wonder what she's doing right now?" Instead of pitching our fantasy tents comfortably in the world of fiction, we anchor them to some contrived but remotely plausible chain of circumstances where we might, just might, really have a chance.

  • What Shall We Do With A Drunken Sailor?

    Guestblogger Paul Spinrad is a freelance writer/editor with Catholic interests, and is Projects Editor for MAKE magazine. He is the author of The VJ Book and The Re/Search Guide to Bodily Fluids, and was an early contributor to bOING bOING when it was an online zine. He lives in San Francisco.


    If it's true that British Naval history is written in rum, sodomy, and the lash, one can't help but imagine what colorful fates have befallen drunken sailors early in the morning. Like many folk songs, "What Shall We Do With A Drunken Sailor," is a great template for verbal improvisation. For each verse, you just need four counts of lyrics, which you repeat between choruses. This provides ample time to set down your mug and gesture to your buddies, "Hey– I've got a good one!" so they will give you the floor next time around.

    I wish we could all be together now, singing sea chanties in some friendly tavern. That's not possible, but I think we can still have some fun coming up with and sharing new verses for What Shall We Do With A Drunken Sailor. I'll start, and if you have any, please post them in the comments:

    • Ream his bunghole with a rusty scupper (repeat)
    • Wring his sack in the starboard windlass (repeat)

    • Soak his cheeks in the Devil's bath, now (repeat)

    • Coat his mizzen-mast with tar and feathers (repeat)

    (Obligatory Distancing Comment: Yes, this is totally immature.)

  • Let's Just Say Hors d'Oeuvres

    Boingboing guest blogger Paul Spinrad is Projects Editor for MAKE magazine. He enjoyed everyone's attention enormously. 

    Guestblogging for Boingboing has been a real treat– I always love the discussions here, and as anticipated, I learned and will continue to learn a lot from this opportunity. Thank you!

    If you're interested, check out my website Premises, Premises, devoted to one-paragraph descriptions of new business ideas and inventions. I haven't updated it in a while and need to re-do it using all the great free online community tools available now, but I think many of the ideas there have real potential. Others are just for grins, and most are somewhere in between. Deciding which is which is left as an exercise for the reader. It also lists other "ideas sites" — which is a genre I love and have been following, although it has yet to succeed as a frame.

    FWIW, with this post about atheism I apologize to any atheists who thought I was saying they should shut up or be untrue to their beliefs– that's not what I wanted to say! I am an atheist myself, by Greta Christina's definition of certain enough although I've always been fascinated and inspired by religion. I like these quotes:

    "Religions fulfill deep-seated psychological needs for people, and if you don't get it from a specific religious doctrine, you'll get it from the kind of films I like to make. A film like The Terminator is consciously meant to give a sense of empowerment to the individual."
    –James Cameron, American Film, July 1991

    "We think heaven on earth is a real possibility. There are resources enough to create it. And people are intelligent enough to advance it. Now all that remains is to market it."
    –Olivier Toscani, (media director of Benetton), Colors #12

    Thanks also to Mark F. and all of the other boingers for their help and support– and I'll see you on the boards! I will leave with another favorite quote, from Flaubert, which I got from my father (it's originally from Madame Bovary):

    "Human language is like a cracked kettle on which we beat out tunes for bears to dance to, when all the time we are longing to move the stars to pity."

  • Essay Jukebox: Playlist #1

    Boingboing's current guestblogger Paul Spinrad is currently Projects Editor for MAKE magazine. He lives in San Francisco with his wife Wendy, their two children Clara and Simon, and their cats Ron and Nancy. 

    In this post I asked boingboing readers what mini-essays by me they would want to read, and now it's time to pay the piper. Here are the votes tallied from the first 103 comments, in descending order, followed by the goods. Since some interest was expressed in all of them, I'll hit them all with at least a line or two. The top vote-getter was "D) Guys need a coming-of-age ritual that has some teeth, like exist in other cultures," with 35 votes. I guess it's true! Anyway, for those interested, thank you for your interest!


  • Replace Hardcovers with a Bunch of Big Signs

    Boingboing's current guestblogger Paul Spinrad is currently Projects Editor for MAKE magazine and the author of The VJ Book and The Re/Search Guide to Bodily Fluids. He lives in San Francisco. 

    My friend Andy's literature blog recently pointed to this essay by Pat Holt, about how book publishers lose tons of money printing hardcover books. Publishers see them as expensive promotional copies that they need to print in order to get the reviews and interviews that sell profitable softcovers later.

    But to use a trite formulation, publishers of hardcover books must realize that they aren't in the printing printed object business, they're in the talking-stick business. We have a shared general public dialog, but because there are more people with things to say than the public has time to hear, we need some object to confer attention– like the talking stick around a campfire. In our culture, this object is the hardcover from a major publisher, which ideally makes a single timely point to inject into the public discussion.

    Here's something less expensive that I think could replace hardcovers. Each publishing house puts a video billboard in a protected, shared area of Times Square or similar that's dedicated to showing the authors/books currently being promoted. I know outdoor advertising in NYC is expensive, but one sign has got to be cheaper than thousands of hardcovers plus distribution. If the signs are properly imbued with significance, which the industry could easily do, they would accomplish everything that a hardcover run does.

    The book industry would tell book reviewers, talent coordinators, etc. that the signs are the new hardcover. In other words, this is the pool of people we're putting out there to make the rounds in the media, and other people will be covering them and people will be thinking about them at the same time that you are. Meanwhile, aspiring authors should want to see themselves up on one of those signs. They should be framed with appropriate gravitas indicators (marble, columns) and designed by famous artists.

    According to Pat Holt, publishers fear that reeducating the audience away from hardcovers is impossible. But I think it would happen quickly if all the major publishing houses unveiled their signs at once with some fanfare and ribbon-cutting. It would be a major cultural event, and would get plenty of free coverage.

    The signs would also establish a site for publishers to compete against one another, telegraphing how well they are currently doing, by things like how big their sign is, how well-maintained, how state-of-the-art the display technology, and any other ways of showing off how much money the house can publicly burn on image.

    LATE ADD: With the "single timely point" etc. I'm just talking about nonfiction.

  • NuRide for mobile devices?


    Boingboing's current guestblogger Paul Spinrad is currently Projects Editor for MAKE magazine and the author of The VJ Book and The Re/Search Guide to Bodily Fluids. He lives in San Francisco. 

    I love the idea of NuRide, although I've never used it myself. Anyone have some first-hand experience? It's a ridesharing system that hooks up drivers with passengers via the web, and it's running now in a few cities. The way they get past the axe-murderer problem is by having participants sign up via their employers or schools. Maybe the reasoning there is that if employees or students do go psycho, at least they'll be traceable?

    Two things that would help would be to put it on mobile devices and get rid of the requirements for joining. I expect that when API's for mobile phone services come out, which someone told me should happen within a couple of years, an open system like this will be written that anyone will be able to use. This would mean way more people using it, which means way more rides offered– and at some point it would reach a tipping point where people use the service casually, without planning ahead, figuring that they'll be able to get a ride back from wherever they are pretty easily. You could just rely on it the way people in some cities rely on being able to catch a cab.

    If so, some custom would likely bubble up to make it worthwhile for the person giving the ride, probably some system for estimating gas and toll expenses. As the classic 70's dashboard sticker warns, "Ass, Gas, or Grass: Nobody Rides for Free." (NuRide rewards drivers with gift cards from participating retailers– maybe they get money or tax breaks for promoting clean air.)

    As for the axe-murderer problem, I think it's less of a liability and insurance issue if it's freeware tapping into a publicly hosted database, rather than a single company owning and running the system. And on the user side, I think there are enough people out there who would trust their own judgment whether or not to get in the car. But I suspect that it might find trust and acceptance faster if it started out only running on Blackberries.