Carrousel Operators Contacted

Jeff Suess at SF Rec and Parks oversees the licensing of Parks properties to private operators, including the GGP Carrousel. (This unusual spelling is the official one, I’ve learned.)

He gave me contact info for the people who run the carousel, as well as the engineer who restored it back in 1998, and who is based in the area (Hayward).

I emailed the carousel operators in order to run the idea past them of getting an estimate for how much fixing the organ would cost, and then if it’s reasonable, doing a local community fundraising / crowdfunding campaign to make it happen. They like the idea, and we hope to meet in a few weeks to discuss. Yay, fun!

CoCap Event Template, High Level

This morning I checked out the “How to Organize a Pitchfest” webinar, produced by the Center for the New American Dream. It was presented by Bob Marino, whose Sea Coast Local organization is dedicated to promoting local economies in New Hampshire. They’ve put on two local entrepreneur pitchfest events.

It was a good overview– nothing too surprising if you’ve been to pitch events before, but nicely put together and great to see. The recording and slide deck of the webinar will be available at the Center for a New American Dream website next week, and they also have a great Guide to Going Local that you can download free. I just checked it out, and very nice job. Pages 13-14 are a step-by-step “Holding a Pitchfest” recipe that’s also informed by the Sea Coast Local events, and page 12 links to a video about their Feb 2013 event. Meanwhile, I also learned that the BALLE (Business Alliance for Local Living Economies) will publish a Community Capital Toolkit next week at

One slide in Marino’s deck compared a bunch of local entrepreneur showcase events by different org’s, and the CoCap event in Oakland will certainly be along the same lines. But I think we can help by developing some of the legal and procedural infrastructure further.

Specifically, the CoCap Event Template should include usable, open-source legal and descriptive language for the following three components:

1. Sign-in Sheet. Legal text for the contract that everyone has to sign before participating in the event. This includes:

1a. Non-solicitation. Declare the signer’s understanding that the event does not include (or tolerate) offers to sell securities, that such discussions must occur privately, etc. Like what they say on Shark Tank, “No offer is being made to or solicited from the viewing audience.”

1b. Prohibition of recording and photography. Prohibit use of any cameras or recording equipment for the entire event. This encourages people to actually show up and participate face-to-face, because if you don’t, you miss it. It also makes these events a safe place for people to discuss things freely, with no risk of leaking secret plans to the public or of having their half-baked remarks go on their permanent online record.

The event’s producers do videorecord one and only one part of the event, the entrepreneur presentations, adhering to the rules listed below.

2. Opening statements. The emcee reads boilerplate text reiterating that this isn’t an event where investments are solicited, echoing some of the Sign-in Sheet language.

At their discretion, the emcee can also use this as an opportunity to get “churchy,” by leading others in making shared declarations of values and hearing each others’ voices in unison. This is a time-tested group bonding experience that’s effective, grounding, and doesn’t cost a dime. “Repeat after me: We are here to help each other do good things for our communities and our world.”

3. Documentation by Event Producers. The “headline act” of the event is the entrepreneur presentations, where people who might be seeking money later (all disclaimers in place) present their business plans, causes, projects, etc., These conclude with an open Q-and-A with the audience. This is the only part of the event that’s documented, only by the event’s organizers, and following guidelines such as:

  • Notify everyone at the event when the videotaped / documented part of the evening will begin, i.e. when the camera is turned on, and when it will end.
  • Videotape each presentation in its entirety, and such that it’s clear and intelligible.
  • For each presentation, include a pan shot of the entire room, to show the audience.
  • Publish each presentation video within X days, alongside a listing of the event’s time, date, location, and the names of all of the event’s participants.
  • Declare that the video has not been altered or edited in any way– that includes all Q-and-A, etc.

Documenting presentations in this way can help entrepreneurs raise funds later, especially if they aren’t producing a video pitch on their own. Anyone who watches one of these videos online later, such as on a crowdfunding page, can use the information listed to confirm that the presentation was not staged, it happened where and when it says it did, the people in the audience are not shills, the video was not abridged or manipulated, etc.

Debate Club SF: Change Your Mind

Meet Debate Club SF

Debate Club SF: Change Your Mind

Debate Club SF is where San Franciscans go to broaden their perspective, to discuss current and local topics with people who aren’t in their immediate social circles– all in a transit-accessible location that’s friendly, not too loud, and has a great beer selection.

It’s something that I’ve been meaning to organize for a while and still haven’t gotten to, but I hope to put on the first prototype event some time this spring. Stay tuned, or let me know if you are interested, email below.

Problem: All of the places where the public can witness live discussion of timely topics, such as lectures and author events, follow the “star system” model*, where chosen individuals present to a passive audience. Even when there’s a Q-and-A at the end, it’s still one-sided: audience asks, and expert answers.

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Digital Orrery Version


At last week’s Crowdfunding SF Meetup, I was talking about Celestyme with a designer who suggested that a round display rather than dot-matrix with glyphs– to make it more like a digital orrery. This is more like my original design conception for the clock, which is why I reserved the domain a while ago, before I got Hmm– which one? Both could presumably share a lot of the same back-end development, which is nice.

I think it would be totally lame to display the time in the middle with digits– you need hands. So I just searched around for optoelectronic components that might make good hands, but didn’t find anything good. No purpose-built analog clock-style displays. Some bar graph displays are curved such that you can make a circle with 12 of them, but the lines are so short. Others are long and thin, but you’d need a large and expensive number of them to make a clock face.

It seems easier, cheaper, and more elegant to go with a cheap electromechanical movement for the time in the middle, and then LEDs for the planetary positions. You can get clock movements for $3, and people have succeeded in controlling them from an Arduino.

Here’s a sketch of what this Digital Orrery version clock face might look like. The colored circles are LEDs (not exact colors) showing the same example time as the one used below, 12:30am GMT on January 25, 2014. They read outward starting from Mercury, just like the real solar system, and skipping Earth. Then an outer ring shows sun, moon, and rising/ascendant, without showing the phase of the moon like the dot-matrix version does.


Pi and Swiss Ephemeris vs. Arduino and DIY with JPL DE421?

Looking at the JPL DE421 ephemeris, and others from JPL, I’m intimidated at the prospect of figuring out how to calculate planetary positions from this data– it seems pretty complicated. Meanwhile, there’s a commercial software package called Swiss Ephemeris that’s based on the JPL DE406 ephemeris and purports to do exactly this. It seems to be written a couple of longtime dedicated astro geeks in Zurich, and informed by the Swiss national passion for accuracy and precision in timekeeping. It’s called the Swiss Ephemeris, and if you license it for your product, starting at around $680, you can also display their “Swiss Ephemeris Inside” logo.


If the planetary positions are indeed difficult to calculate, that suggests that my original idea of Arduino + SD card with JPL ephemeris might not have enough horsepower to do a good job. It might make more sense to go for a Raspberry Pi (or similar) running the Swiss Ephemeris. The whole software package fits on a CD-ROM (700MB), but I’m not sure how much of that is program code (which I think would need to fit into the Pi’s 512MB onboard) and how much is ephemeris tables that could easily on a 2GB SD card. Anyway, I’m gonna look into it. More expensive for sure, but it might be worth it to not re-invent the cosmic wheel and also have the #1 trusted name in planetary position calculation software.


8×8 Astro Glyphs

I had fun designing these 8×8 glyphs for the Celestyme clock. There are lots of 8×8 dot-matrix LED displays for these to shine on, with many different sizes and colors ranging from these 0.78″ square ones from LiteOn via Jameco to these 1.2″ and 1.5″ square ones from Betlux. Judging by online prices, these components should cost at most $2 each in bulk, likely much less.

Here are the glyphs. Some may change a bit, but I think most work quite well:


Mercury Venus Mars Jupiter
mercury venus mars jupiter
Saturn Uranus Neptune Pluto
saturn uranus neptune pluto

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Minimum Enjoyable Product (MEP) Methodology


Tech startups often introduce to market with a Minimum Viable Product (MVP), the cheapest and easiest-to-build version of a new product that carves out its functional niche without crashing. If people find this first release useful, then the company, investors, and the market know that the product should probably be developed further. The early real-world market feedback reduces risk.

For the entertainment industry, storytelling division, the analog to MVP is the Minimum Enjoyable Product (MEP). This is the cheapest and easiest-to-create version of the story that people will find worthwhile.

For many stories, the MEP is a graphic novel or other illustrated narrative. This inexpensive format lends itself best to screen adaptation because it tells the story in a visual manner, and can be easily translated into a production storyboard. (Or even basically be a production storyboard.) That’s why so many movies are now adapted from comic books, and why the annual ComicCon has become not just a fan event, but a story scouting trip and testbed for Hollywood.

Treatment and screenplay formats do not work for MEPs, despite their importance under the old Hollywood paradigm, because they are not fun to read. Especially treatments– as short as they are, they demand too much concentration. And full-length screenplays (like novels) are too long to work as “minimum.” People generally don’t read in either format unless it’s part of their job.

With stories that are “talky” and less visually-oriented, you can also employ MEP methodology via short (written) stories, articles, podcasts, and presentations. But illustrated forms are better bets for demonstrating screen potential.

20th Century Stories has started contacting authors about helping to adapt their great stories into graphic novels with screen potential. Stay tuned, and please email any suggestions to: suggest [at] 20thcenturystories [dot] net.

Marx, Capitalism, and the Sharing Economy

Are AirBnB and Zipcar leading us into communism?

Or, less sensationalistically: Does the rise of the Sharing Economy represent the beginning of late capitalism’s final evolution into communism, as predicted and advocated by Karl Marx over a century ago?

To explore this issue, I had a great conversation with Mark S. Byrnes, Associate Professor of History at Wofford College; and William Carleton, startup lawyer, columnist, and blogger at Counselor @ Law, America’s #1 most popular Securities Law blog.

Our conversation also ranged over public utilities and monopolies, the rise of the railroads, The Circle and 1984, Theodore Roosevelt and the Progressive Era, 3-D printing, the Federal Reserve, the NSA, the Affordable Care Act, and the Surveillance-Social Network Complex. It was a lot of fun, I learned a lot, and the conversation changed my mind– which is always the best recommendation.

Evgeny Morozov recently wrote a critique in The New Yorker that compares today’s Maker movement to the Arts and Crafts movement of the early 20th century, and argues that it is likewise doomed if it continues ignoring the fight for justice, and fails to discuss institutional and political change. As an activist and former MAKE editor, I agree. Morozov’s essay reminds me of this conversation with Byrnes and Carleton, which focuses on different aspects of the same historical era, and comes to similar conclusions.

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Celestyme: A Digital Clock That Shows Where All the Planets Are


Timepieces are fascinating, especially when they give you extra information, like the current phase of the moon or sunrise/sunset times. And whether you’re into astronomy, astrology, or both, it’s fun to know where the planets are currently in the sky.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a clock that shows you not just the time, date, and moon phase, but also the zodiac locations of the sun, moon, and all planets, plus the rising sign and Mercury and Venus retrograde status?

And wouldn’t it be even more interesting and cool if the clock displayed this information digitally via a dot-matrix LED array, with all astrological symbols represented as 8×8 glyphs?

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Sub Ramp logo sketch

Sub Ramp: a WordPress plugin for time-function subscription pricing


News-gathering companies have been floundering for years, looking for ways to monetize their timely digital content. Micropayment schemes have failed, so now various combinations of advertising, donations, grants, and paywalls typically generate the revenue that keeps them afloat. But it’s a trickle compared to the old days. Professional journalism is important, so this is a problem for us all, and some foresee the industry’s extinction.

As of last October, over 430 newspapers in North America use some form of paywall. But paywalls drastically reduce readership, because readers can usually find what they want for free. “Leaky paywalls,” which allow limited free access to content, are an improvement– but as with micropayments, they’re ultimately rooted in the print-era assumption that the price of delivered content needs to be static. And that’s a mistake.

If published information has some time value, why can’t publishers charge for it accordingly? If you learn some valuable information before others do, that translates to greater opportunities and higher status– that’s a universal. So why aren’t our subscription mechanisms designed to reflect this? Why can’t you say, “The more you pay, the sooner you get it.”?

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