2012 and 2013

Last year was really busy, and the first quarter of this year was no different. I accomplished about three of the four goals that I had for 2012. I had finished analyzing and published  my study results, demonstrated my prototypes, and presented my ideas at various settings.

However, I was not able to improve the Flora test bed as planned, primarily because I had to adjust to my data visualization role at work. I had also wanted to attend more conferences at the beginning of this year to network, listen, and collaborate but had not much time to do so. There are lots to ponder with regards to how to move forward.

I feel fortunate to be working at a vibrant research institute. It’s instructive to see how much work goes into researching and communicating ideas. In some ways, my unwritten hopes were too ambitious for a project with so little dedicated resources. While I’ve learned through the years to temper my plans, my expectations were still somewhat unrealistic.

This is not to say I have regrets  — I don’t. I’ve really enjoyed the process of learning from my successes and mistakes, and the process of cultivating patience, skills, and determination to keep moving forward the best I can. I will also keep making plans to get me moving, otherwise it’s very easy to get into a rut.

So, for 2013, I have these goals:

  • Make at least one improvement to Flora. I’m thinking along the lines of user interface.
  • Attend at least one conference. The options are CCS conference at the Hague, ICTD/ACM Dev in South Africa, IEEE Vis at Atlanta.
  • Long shot goal: publish another paper

Hope to see some of you in one of the conferences in my list.

2012 Q3 Update

Yesterday at the University of Washington, I gave a seminar talk of my thoughts on community and alternative currencies. Lots of good, challenging questions. This marks the first time that I presented TraceEval to a group of people, and although I was nervous at first, I was glad that I did it.

I’m also waiting to hear back from  other opportunities to present my ideas. In addition, I want to finish prototyping an easy-to-use implementation that I’m hoping to deploy next year. I will follow-up on the invitation to try Flora as a testbed and continue prototyping for the remainder of the year.

Merged Blogs

It was getting obvious that I could not actively maintain three blogs – tyaga.org, satconomy.org, and edgarsioson.com. Maybe I was thinking that establishing a new blog would reinvigorate my motivation to post more frequently. But it was just wishful thinking. It is very easy to get used to not blogging if I’m really busy at work, writing up a paper, or traveling.

I had resisted the urge to establish another site for more than a year, but finally did it early this year out of the compelling need to better organize my thoughts and message. I also don’t like the situation of feeling stuck and felt compelled to make a decision as needed to get out of a rut.  But three blogs was too ambitious and even silly. The main thing now is to use categories (duh!) and let readers choose whatever topics they want to read. So, I merged the three blogs here, adopted the most up-to-date theme to suit my purpose, and recategorized my posts as needed.

One of the lessons learned ties up quite well with my preferred approach on ‘handling messiness’. Having three blogs to segregate my thoughts in three smaller and neater piles seemed like a good idea, but my tendency is really to let machines organize things as much as possible. I don’t want to log on to three different admin panels and figure out first where I want to post. That’s too much work just to get started. It’s much better to just start writing a post and categorize when the thought has been laid out for review.

I still think that having a personal site was and is a good idea. Only now, the self-titled site will just have mostly static content with links to my various projects and interests. With the merged blogs, there is a risk of turning off tyaga.org readers who are just interested in technical ideas and updates. However, the upside is that readers could get a more holistic picture of me. There will be more transparency and better likelihood of detecting bias in my writings. I’m hoping that amid the mixed bag of topics, the increased transparency will lead to better understanding overall.

 

2012 Q2 Update

Really busy first half of the year. Finally, I am able to announce the study results as published in JASSS at the end of June. In early July, I presented a brief summary of the paper at the ESSA summer school in Toulouse, France. I also posted an invitation to a friendly competition next year using social simulation to test proposed currency and reputation systems.

So while there was a break from coding of prototype systems, last quarter was definitely not the usual yearly break where I mostly relax. I was actually busy working on other projects, also involving programming, that I’m hoping will help in the next stages of my personal projects.

I’m planning more outreach for the second half of the year. There is also much work left to develop Flora into a more user-friendly and intuitive simulation testbed. I’m eager to continue working on all these projects, and maybe post updates sooner rather than later.

2012 Q1 Update

I have to qualify the achievement of my goals for Q1 of this year, as far as not being able to broadcast results or videotape a demo of the study prototype. Instead of posting a draft of the study and results, I have submitted a paper to an online journal. It is currently under a second round of review. Once a final decision is reached by the journal editor, I will share the paper online. Email me for a preprint request if interested.

I have also demonstrated a tool for conducting studies of decentralized currency systems at ICTD2012.  It was good to hear positive feedback on the idea and to see so many academics and techies who with a passion for socioeconomic development. Compared to another conference that I attended lat year, I prefer meetings with lots of presentations on case studies and demonstrations. Too bad I did not learn about Unmoney Convcergenc 2012 until it was already done, as it would have been good to experience that event as well.

I definitely feel that I made progress towards my goals for Q1. However, since I have not announced links to the paper and study tool, I have fallen short of being as open as possible with my ongoing work. There is a balancing act of being open and trying to minimize wasting people’s time with poorly baked ideas and prototypes. I believe that by initially limiting sharing to reviewers and conferences, instead of broadcasting online, other’s would benefit by waiting and seeing more polished deliverables.

Looking ahead, Q2 will likely be a downtime for me. Usually I take my break around Q1 of the year, but I have not taken a prolonged break since Q1 of last year. I have been switching between developing work-related auditing systems and study tool/visualization almost nonstop for over a year. I need time to refresh and also plan for an upcoming summer workshop/vacation. I will also use Q2 to catch up on the projects that I follow online.

TraceEval

TraceEval is the new, unifying project name that ties-in the various components that have been proposed and prototyped on this site. ‘TraceEval’ evokes the main goal of tyaga.org, which is to prototype a framework of traceable currencies that are evaluated for acceptability at the time of payment. The primary considerations in TraceEval are:

(1) Brands

A currency ‘brand’ is traceable to the issuing person or organization the serves a market or social need. This approach is different from both community currencies, such as LETS, and peer-to-peer lending systems, such as Ripple. There is no guarantee of currency brand acceptability between entities. For example, a seller would only accept a payment, or a nonprofit would only accept a donation, if the recipient supports the mission and activities of a payer or donor.

Prototypes that are planned under the ‘brands’ category are example websites, inventory systems, and simple online commerce systems. There are older prototypes using blogger, and the obviously made up ‘iSchool.edu’ and ‘food2go.com’ on this site, but those were part of Prowl which I consider outdated and pretty much abandoned (unless I could be convinced to go back to it).

(2) Budgets

Currency is self-issued periodically as revenue and expense budgets of an entity.  This is how currencies are made traceable in TraceEval. Budgets are non-transferrable between entities, which lessens the pressure for an entity to accept payments, since every entity is able to issue its own expense budget.

Prototypes that fall under the ‘budgets’ category include the proposed OCAUP accounting lifecycle/convention/model, the implemented NPX accounting system with the smart-phone inspired user interface, and the Interentity Payment Protocol (IPP).

(3) Bots

Indexers, auditors, and other service providers are needed to make sense of published currency activity and to advise on currency brand reputation. The evaluation part in TraceEval would not be possible without these service providers. The expectation is for TraceEval service provider to spontaneously arise much like the diverse offerings of browser options or search engines in the early days of the Web.

There is much work to be done as far as prototyping TraceEval bots. So far, there is only a mock-up of what a currency brand index website might look like, maybe similar to a NASDAQ of currency brands. The only other prototype to-date was coded as part of simulation studies.

Most of this post was borrowed from another post in another blog. There will be a slow shift away from the ‘satconomy’ moniker in favor of TraceEval. The philosophical or conceptual framework in satconomy is, I think, still valid. TraceEval just happens to be a better term that captures the goal of the framework and the motivation behind the prototypes.

A Look “Behind Deep Blue”

There are a few books that I like to reread especially when I need to recharge my motivation. One of these books is “Behind Deep Blue” by Feng-Hsiung Hsu. It is a well-written story about a small team who, as the subtitle says, built ‘the computer that defeated the World Chess Champion’, aka Gary Kasparov. Despite the technical implications in the title, a person moderately familiar with chess and computers would not have any problems following the story. The few geeky parts, scattered here and there, can be skimmed in favor of what really stands out, the human narrative.

The fateful night and soul-searching described in Chapter 3 is one of my favorites. Hsu finds himself at a cross-roads, and only hesitates for a bit before committing to the task at hand. One of the reaffirmed lessons for me is the need to identify the root of confusion and doubt before one could proceed into effective paths. Hsu found the 64-chip design odd even from the beginning, but for various reasons he did not think about alternative solutions. Until he was asked to help out, and he started to look deeper into the technical issues, and then that fateful night of introspection, … and the rest is history, or more precisely, a 12-year endeavor by dedicated individuals.

I really don’t want to give a long book review or spoil the story. Let me just say that there are many lessons in Deep Blue that I find relevant to my own pursuits. Dedication to a task is one of them. Not the ‘blind’ variety, but dedication that springs from the process of working through doubts and the careful assessment of one’s capabilities and limitations. It’s been seven years since I first took the time to really reflect on recurring questions; six years since I decided that yes, I could do something about these questions and started to search for potential paths; four years since I committed to training towards a technical role as warranted by my natural inclinations; and now I’m again purposely moving out of my comfort zone towards unfamiliar territory. Who knows if anything will come out of my projects, but it’s all worth it as I really enjoy the self-imposed challenges.

Looking Back and Forward

The last quarter of 2011 has been productive as I have been able to devote more of my time conducting simple studies. I have generated a lot of preliminary data from prototype tests, but unfortunately, I am not prepared to share those results yet. I am still sifting through the data and familiarizing myself with relevant analysis techniques along the way.

I am enthusiastic about my progress and of having the opportunity to learn many things along the way. Although a lot of analysis work remains, it feels good to accomplish my main goal of performing at least one study this year. It was not easy switching gears midyear to code a prototype system for conducting studies, and then again to refactor the prototype in November to improve the efficiency and reliability of getting results. The wait throughout the first half of 2011, while settling in at a new workplace, was really worth it. Amazingly, I was able to use — and is still using — many of the lessons I’ve learned from my new work responsibilities.

For example, I ended up using a JSON-based datastore since MySQL seemed too heavy for coding a quick prototype at work. This shortcut proved really handy when I began to work on my personal project again. It really helped me see why different tools are often necessary for different prototyping tasks. MySQL is not a good choice for a research-oriented database system, at least in my case, so I dropped it and everything went more smoothly with simple JSON-formatted output files.

More importantly for my continued productivity, being in a research environment helps cultivate my skills and motivation. Even the daily routine of commuting to work requires a certain level of discipline to make my spare time count, a challenge that I find rewarding. I should also mention that I tried Erlang along the way and also Git, but the learning curve made me go back to the familiar PHP and the simpler(?) Mercurial. The research/coding workflow that I have developed around performing studies really ties in well with a decentralized code versioning system. I’ve also accomplished the goal of creating a new site, actually a new blog, as mentioned in a previous post.

So, after a productive 2011, I have the following goals for 2012:

  • Finish analyzing and share the results by end of Q1
  • Demonstrate the study prototype in Q1
  • Improve the study prototype to handle more sophisticated test scenarios by Q2
  • Seek out potential collaborators throughout 2012

Looking forward to a great year!

Handling Messiness

I have been thinking a bit on two system approaches to handling messiness: one that is oriented towards mess ‘prevention’, and another that is more tolerant of messiness but instead prioritizes sense-making. Of course, it is possible to spend effort on both fronts when designing and implementing a system. But sometimes a compromise has to be made and one approach has to prevail on the other.

This thought process was seeded through recent experiences at work and also by points raised in online discussions that I follow. After boiling down the issues to what I perceived is a root cause of many misunderstandings, I realized just how much I prioritize sense-making over mess-prevention. Don’t get me wrong, I really value mess prevention and a good system or process design should set well-defined boundaries. However, if I could think of an efficient way to make sense of existing or future mess, I would gradually lose ‘faith’ in the need for mess-prevention efforts.

For example, my preference for sense-making leads to heightened interest towards natural language processing instead of required semantic mark-ups. I admit that I routinely use structured data formats, such as found in JSON/XML specifications or implied in relational database systems, so I don’t think I under-appreciate the importance of mess-prevention. However, where there are no systems or specifications in place, I am more open to considering lightweight systems with minimal requirements. Similarly, I like dynamically-typed programming languages and search engines that attempt to make sense of whatever and however I write.

There is just too much to lose when requirements are over-specified too early. In a research environment such as where I work, I think the tools chosen should be more naturally inclined towards sense-making rather than mess prevention. Enforcing manual code versioning steps is simply inappropriate especially when there is an opportunity to automate routine commands, such as creating hooks in git or mercurial. Time spent complying with strict standards would be better spent conducting actual research. A tool that has a good balance of tolerance for messiness and built-in capabilities for sense-making should be preferred over another that requires strict enforcement.

It’s sad that I have not been given an opportunity to explain all of the above where I work. But at least I have my personal projects where I could express the approach that I prefer and blogs to demonstrate what I mean.

Personal Website

I’d like to announce an important update on another goal that I have  for this year, which is to clean up and reorganize this site. I have not discussed this goal much since it was really low on my priority list. Actually, it still is.

What I have done is circumvent that task by creating a new blog,  edgarsioson.com. My first post there explains my motivation for creating yet another blog. I have updated the About page here to emphasize an easily missed purpose for this blog. When I created tyaga.org, I was really hoping to exemplify how an entity might cultivate an independent currency brand. This involved being as transparent as practical by declaring short-term goals and plainly stating or demonstrating what was actually accomplished or not. I have identified early inspirations such as the Dervaes Institute and PSPad. I even stated a particularly ambitious goal in a post from almost three years ago – “to hire people who are willing to be paid in the tyaga.org currency brand”!

It really has been a mixed bag, with many unfulfilled goals but lots of lessons learned and a few prototypes that I am proud of having developed. I could console myself in thinking that, yes, these experiences are likely to be common to what a ‘currency brand’ start-up would go through. I definitely wish that tyaga.org could have been more successful in convincing others to start a currency brand, but the admittedly rustic information systems and protocols that I have prototyped earlier did not lead to even limited adoption. More capable and polished implementations, like Twollars, was fortunate in eliciting more excitement and at least I got to observe what Prowl – which had a very similar technical premise to Twollars – might have been if I had better skills and resources. Unfortunately, even Twollars seem to be languishing at this point.

On a more optimistic note, the more recent prototypes (NPX and IPP) are just a bit more polished and thought-out, and the code is definitely more maintainable. I am also in the middle of conducting simple studies, which I’m hoping could lead to more effective implementations and collaborations. If you are curious, just email me and I’d be happy to share preliminary results.

That’s pretty much it for now. I’ll post here two to four times a year, but I’ll post more frequently in my personal blog. My next post should include the year-end review, as usual.