Fabbing. Now in real time. Or in China. Or at your place.

A couple of weeks ago The Pirate Factory in Malmö demonstrated their RepRap. There’s Flickr pool of the event up here with a shaky video at the end of it. They’re using a spruced up version from Bits from Bytes which looks slightly less dingy than the RepRap usually does (also, it uses a more powerful microcontroller for driving the printer independently of a computer — apparently an SD card is enough) and judging from the pictures there was a bunch of people present. I wonder which of the pictures are going to be used in Swedish school-books in the future, as illustrations of the fabbing revolution and micro-production…

Speaking of which, Wired has an article up on the current state of how manufacturing companies have become accessible to anyone with a credit card, lowering the cost of admission into mass production to more or less zero. Atoms are the new bits is worth your time if you’re the least interested in these matters, or the future in general. It’s full of interesting links, like the one to alibaba.com, an enormous portal of Chinese manufacturers.

I wonder what the environmental costs will be of bespoke production; To some extent you’ll have less hit-and-miss toys occupying landfills, but this gain might well be offset by increased packaging and shipping, or some other corollary. Also, I wonder if these long-tail manufacturing plants will go global or if China and such countries will retain their head start; We in the west will only ever manufacture wars.

If intellectual properties will become impossible to enforce — something which isn’t certain, given the oppressive laws which are passed to counter transparency and openness — this would indeed shift not only the knowledge of how to do something but also the rational for the existence of a specific company. If you can download the plans for a SAAB, you just need someone to manufacture it. In the end, just as globalization has killed the connection between brand and production — after all, the cheap manufacturing plants exist exactly because of the Export Processing Zones in Vietnam and China — it might well kill the last remnant of Company with a capital “c,” the brand with an address.

These realizations are not lost on industry folk, but no-one wants to admit their own obsolescence, thus there’s no hurry to come up with new business models. The exceptions are Threadless of the world, but those start from the bottom up and don’t have to reinvent themselves; Let’s see how well Apple handles the transition — if at all.

Joren De Wachter has written a summation of the coming upheavals — The Return of the Public Domain — and it’s a text targeting those in the manufacturing & design industry. Even though he’s hopeful, or rather, not fearful, of the technological changes which will change intellectual property as we understand it, his text is very thin on the details of how companies will cope, and focus rather on the knowledge workers themselves. (Proffesional Idea Generators, he calls us, which might actually go as an acronym on my next business card)

However, there is also a very clear positive side to the new developments described above for Professional Idea Generators. The new business models that become necessary will clearly provide them with significant competitive advantages for doing business in an environment where the Public Domain is important. Knowledge and expertise, cost effectiveness, continued innovation and networking are key competences of Professional Idea Generators. This puts them in a very strong position in respect of the new developments.

The sentiment seems to be that “someone will still make money, if they just figure out how to add their own knowledge as a value which can be commodified.” As things stand, only those who make stuff will be needed, those who actually have the tools and raw material to manufacture something. Everyone else is part of the Public Domain. And not only figuratively as someone who designs webpages or new pens, but they themselves become part of the commons, and last time I checked there was a tragedy involved in the commons under any scarcity-driven economic model.

You’re going to need a special secret sauce, armed guards keeping it safe for long enough to sell it. And even then you’re either competing for a nieche audience which wants the exclusive, or your elbowing for space with other companies, competing on price.

And here’s a narrative which might seem familiar: Over at The Millions, there’s an interview with a guy who pirates books, and in the comments section some people are upset over a lack of morals. In ten years time, when your kids are printing modified pirated Nikes, maybe the kneejerk debate will be different, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. Home fabbing is killing Nike!

The future! The future!

The Singularity is no longer talked about as the geek rapture which will make people happy and good and content with life; Just as our capacity for rational and creative thought will be multiplied hundredfold in a short time, our capacity to act according to our own morals increases accordingly. No longer a world where anyone can build an atom bomb, but one in which each of us is a walking one. The will to power will out, and just because there’s no need to fight over oil or water doesn’t mean someone won’t want to kill us all.

Ray Kurzweils movie Trancendent Man seems like an interesting overview of the mans ideas, and h+ has an interview with him which you might want to read before the movie makes it onto the torrent sites; He is good at articulating the problems which might appear as a result of technological advances (eternal life, nano-tech, AI) and because of his technological background actually has numbers he can throw at you when it comes to the hard sci-fi predictions.

James Hughes over at Changesurfer Radio interviewed professor of philosphy Asher Seidel about his book, and it’s a good guide to the kinds of questions that might challenge our successors. I started listening to the transhumanist Changesurfer Radio ten years ago in Karlstad, and it’s a great source of interesting ideas and people. I heartily recommend it, if for no other reason than that James is a politically conscious person who doesn’t let his interviewees get away with just technological solutions to human problems; Humans are social and political beasts and use technology accordingly. Which, incidentally, also is the lesson that good science fiction can teach us.


Lately, between fattening myself on crisps and ramen, and watching The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, I’ve been reading. Since none of you heathens got me an ebook reader for the holidays, I’ve been perched in my comfy new fake leather armchair, reading off the screen or on paper.

Mostly I’ve been rekindling old flames: Iain M. Banks Matter as well as the abridged Transition; Peter F Hamiltons Starflyer books — Pandora’s Star and Judas Unchained — have sent me back to the first two parts of the Dreaming Void trilogy, and I can hardly wait for the last installment which is due out in fall of 2010, and where I’m guessing we’re going to see a fascist universe be created in the Void.

Matter is a Culture novel and as such it’s a fascinating read. More than in other novels there is intervention by the Culture — a futuristic, egalitarian galactic society which tries to nudge more primitive civilizations along —  into the life and society of a Victorian era feudal world which exists on a shell world; a spherical world within a world within a world, built for unknown purposes. The king is murdered and his daughter, who has gone off and joined the Culture, returns for his funeral, getting mixed up in a world she’d left behind. If you enjoy Iains style of prose, you’ll love this book — its imagery is powerful and the language just the right amount of funny.

Petter gave me Foreskins Lament by Shalom Auslander — known from This American Life as the Jew who hates God — and it’s a good read so far. If you need a reason for why religion might be more damaging to your mental health than a regular abusive home, look no further than to his description of how he was taught about God. Apatheism is the way to go, people. Trust me on this — just focus on an existential issue other than theism, and make that issue the cornerstone of your personal ontology and moral conviction.

I still haven’t slogged through 45 by Bill Drummond, a collection of essays which Olle lent me, but I’m getting there, although that has been delayed by my adorable mom, who just sent me a Polish account of two years spent in Tokyo. It being mom I have to prioritize that, even though it reads like a punny Lost in Translation. Never an endorsement.

The business of business


Sony releases two new ebook readers, which I’m unnaturally enthusiastic about (if you live in the Americas – where the streets flow with milk and honey – I’d appreciate one of these) and in the article over at New York times one of the publishers is brooding about the (reduced!) costs of doing business in the digital age.

Their plan is to wait with digital copies of books so that fans can spend money on buying the hardcover version first. See, because the strategy to delay DVD sales until the cinema screenings have milked the marked has really worked out swell for the movie industry. How come these people still have a job to go to? They must have heard of OCR and rabid fans typing up new books, right?

In response to the $9.99 list price, some publishers are thinking about postponing the release of the digital versions of their most popular books, lengthening the period in which only the higher-priced hardcover versions are available. This is similar to the approach taken by Hollywood studios, which allow DVD sales and rentals only after a film has left theaters.

→ New York Times, Brad Stone: Sony to Cut E-Book Prices and Offer New Readers

To help budding entrepreneurs avoid these traps, I also identified the three key elements that go into a successful business plan: a logical statement of a problem and its solution; a battery of cold, hard evidence; and candor about the risks, gaps and other assumptions that might be proved wrong.

→ Wall Street Journal, John W. Mullins: Why business plans don’t deliver