It’s the day after the 2020 election as I write this. It looks as though Joe Biden will win enough states to win 270+ Electoral College votes. Let’s assume, for a moment, that legal shenanigans ensue but end with no change beyond more anger. What then?
The good news will remain in front of us:

Joe Biden is boring, and decent. I look forward to a presidential term in which we don’t wake up to screaming ALL CAPS! tweets from a temper tantrum. …


Nobody, lying on their deathbed, ever said: “I wish I’d attended more conferences”

COVID’s not going away fast, and we must be prepared for future pandemics, and for a world with lowered use of fossil fuels. Conferences aren’t coming back in their old fashion, at all. What happens next?

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Associated Press image from Engadget www.engadget.com/2019-01-06-live-from-ces-2019.html

I think I’ve spent the equivalent of more than two full years at conferences. Over a thousand nights in hotels. Hundreds of flights and airports and taxis. Lonely dinners. Conferences have been important in my career, and in my life. Literally: I met my wife after I gave a plenary address at a conference 20 years ago — one of the only romantic episodes ever from a telecom technology conference. …


“The power of population is so superior to the power of the earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race.” Thomas Robert Malthus, An Essay on the Principle of Population Chapter II. Originally published 1798.

The Malthusian prediction: apocalypse, soon

The two-century-old prediction that the growth in population would outstrip production of food, so that the only solutions would be widespread hunger and death or necessary curbs on population, is one of the most famous and most studied of forecasts, particularly because it was so soundly based in logic and knowledge and ended up so wrong. It’s interesting to look back and learn the lessons of how the Malthusian apocalypse never showed up, and why, and how our present predicament — and some of the language describing it — is familiar, and some proposed solutions seem little changed from two centuries ago. …


Beyond the walled garden

If you’re a disgruntled user of social media, or an entrepreneur or investor seeing opportunity in the wave of disenchantment, you’re wondering if alternative social media are important, or is “just” creating more walled gardens a bad idea? Instead, do decentralized intermediaries, such as Twitter’s BlueSky, ActivityPub and Digi.me, show the way forward? Historic analogies suggest that they may be crucial, not just for salving Facebook’s specific wounds, but for enabling a future, well-interconnected system of autonomous social media.

— -

Some of my friends are closing their Facebook accounts; others are sternly defending their decisions to remain on Facebook, despite the grave concerns they acknowledge about the firm’s business and ethical lapses. …


How hard, and how expensive will it be to convert most, nearly all, of the world’s energy consumption from fossil fuels to non-fossil forms? Here are a few, fresh anecdotes to show that, just perhaps, this should not be as complex, difficult or expensive as critics project. And therein lies the problem.

Example one: converting ferries

Washington State is moving (slowly) toward converting its ferries from burning heavy diesel oil to all-electric and hybrids. From coverage: The conversions will lower fuel and maintenance costs by more than $14 million annually …and … The overhaul and hybrid conversion is projected to cost $35 million per vessel, but could go as high as $45 million.

So, even before considering the significant immediate environmental and long-term climate consequences of burning oil, this looks like a decent investment. Yes: spend $40M. But lower costs by $14M/year. Three-year payback. It’s a deal. (And: the environmental consequences are significant — The ferries making the Seattle-to-Bainbridge Island run, for example, use about 5,000 gallons of diesel daily to make 10 round-trip crossings, and the net fuel consumption is about 4.7 …


If you’ve graduated from a U.S. university, you get a degree and a piece of paper that includes the words: “with all the Rights, Privileges, and Honors thereunto appertaining” or some such, perhaps in Latin. And you know that your Master of Fine Arts, or fine Doctor of Philosophy degree doesn’t give you any real rights or honors.

But being a white dude, in science and tech, does deliver privileges. I know, I’m one. And, what’s more, my wife, more brilliant than I, with more degrees to her name (I think), gets fewer rights and honors and privileges.

Read her post, then, to see what it’s like when a self-proclaimed member of Europe’s aristocracy (didn’t they die or become irrelevant in 1917 or something?), describing himself as a startup CEO, admits he hasn’t hired any women or minorities because, ahem, well, no coherent reason was given. Of course, a self-proclaimed member of aristocracy has no idea what the struggles of the peasantry are like. But this is 2019 and a company needs to get the best talent it can — and to use the best talent as well it can. Not just hiring people who look like me, white dudes. …


Most people, it’s fair to say, know nothing about cyber-security.

As an example, consider the statistical analysis of British National Cyber-Security Center: it projects that as many as 23 million people worldwide use 123456 as an online password. It’s not as though consumers don’t know that cyber-security is a worry: the same analysis concludes that fully 42% of UK citizens expect to lose money to cyber theft. And yet, here we are.

If you’re reading this, you likely know to have difficult-to-crack passwords, and know what “2fa” means, and have perhaps deployed it yourself. You’ve been careful to put difficult-to-crack passwords on your bank account(s), and made it so that your phone won’t be open to anyone who can trace your greasy fingers’ path on the screen. …


(originally written in September 2018; updated in November 2019)

Bitcoin, blockchain, decentralized ledgers, smart contracts. This domain emerged just in the past 10 years, and already has attracted technical wizards and bankers and politicians and scam artists and lawyers. Most cryptocurrencies and coin offerings soared, plunged and soared again, but remain deeply down from all-time highs.

What to make of this? How to build strategy amidst this? Here, I argue that bitcoin and blockchain and the rest of the ecosystem are not the dazzling outcome itself: they’re the tools that enable the outcome. …


Saudi Aramco just filed notice of its Initial Public Offering. On the same day, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the remaining lion of the fight against Apartheid, called for an international boycott against fossil fuels, akin to that which, long ago, weakened and hastened the end of Apartheid. It would be hard to imagine a more surreal juxtaposition — the amoral against the moral, the forces of finance against the interests of a healthy, sustainable earth.

Where to start?

I offer this: that while the fossil fuel industry will collapse to a fraction of its current size, and a tinier fraction of its current valuations, we’re not near a tipping point. Until that point, boycotts and divestitures won’t be helpful, or successful. …


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Why have a Decentralized Web?

John Patrick Ryan

Sep 27 · 11 min read

There’s a rising tide of interest in re-thinking the World Wide Web, toward a decentralized model. This piece — but of course — does not attempt to create a definitive, centralized answer. Instead, this note offers a frame for considering the types of answers, and looks at some really good examples. The goal here: discuss. Take to conference or party, refine, revise, rinse, repeat.

(This piece was created , collaboratively, as a decentralized project. I collected and curated, with particular support from Ana Jamborcic — @anajamborcic — and with great input from dozens of others: to participate in the dialog, please see the notes after this document. The superscript numbers, like this³¹, refer to sources and are set out at the end. …

About

John Patrick Ryan

Tech executive and strategy consultant. Writing and thinking about long term global economic trends. Strategy in cases where the science remains uncertain.

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