Category Archives: Technology and Society

Technology and Society

The real reason why net neutrality matters

A lot of people think the core of net neutrality is site speed: the amount of time information is served to users. They’re partially right, but there’s a fundamental flaw in keeping the explanation to just those confines.

The Internet at its core is a bunch of servers (computers up 24/7) that receive HTTP requests from clients: your web browser or mine.

The whole point of the Internet is that it abstracts away physical location so that you can consume data created elsewhere: data in the form of textual input/images/ and technical assets such as CSS/Javascript files (NYT’s digital website) or video (Netflix) or in the case of things like Kimono which creates what is known as an Application Programming Interface out of static websites, a structured auto-updated data feed that can be interpreted by your server so you can, for example, scrape data from Yahoo Finance and create your own auto-updating personal dashboard of leading stock picks.

Now the reason why the net neutrality debate has focused on bandwidth and speed of transfer rather than the fundamentals of the Internet are because most people approach it from a user point of view rather than a server/builder point of view, as there are vastly more Internet users than builders so we focus on the paid connections clients have to use to access servers.

Net Neutrality with code(love)

Net Neutrality with code(love)

The crux of the debate isn’t that your Netflix is slower than it should be or that the “tubes” carrying data are filled up and so you will get shittier Internets.

The real core of the debate is that from the builder side, if one were to discriminate based on content type or volume, services like blogs, peer-to-peer cryptocurrency, and more would be threatened because as soon as they show business viability, a monopoly in another industry can arbitrarily decide to toll them either to discourage that growth or to profit from it as much as possible.

This kills innovation. We saw it with the destruction of Google Wallet and the degradation of bittorrent. We will see it when the next Netflix or Spotify fails to ever start because the cost of paying monopoly fees at an early stage will crush any hopes of late-stage returns.

The real argument around net neutrality is whether you trust a monopoly of telecom companies, users, or the government to determine what services the Internet should provide.

I obviously prefer users, but given that the power of the government is being balanced with corporate power, I lean towards the former not because I love governmental intervention but because it is the lesser of two evils. The US government barring its recent spate of backdoor hacking has done a reasonably good job with, for example, giving more power to ICANN (the organization responsible for managing the domain name system) so that innovation is spurred by non-government sources.

Meanwhile, new technologies have constantly been attacked by ISPs.…-problem.shtml

“Even in the U.S., there have been some major violations by small and large ISPs. These include:

The largest ISP, Comcast, secretly interfering with peer-to-peer technologies, including some of the most popular basic technologies used to distribute online TV and music (2005-2008);

A small telephone ISP called Madison River blocking Vonage, a company providing competing telephone service online (2005);

Apple blocking Skype on the iPhone, subject to a secret contract with AT&T, a company that competes with Skype in providing telephone service (2008-2009);

Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile blocking the functionality of Google Wallet on Nexus devices, while all three of those ISPs are part of a competing mobile payments joint venture called Isis (late 2011- +today);

and Comcast’s disputes with Level 3 and Netflix over termination fees, and the appearance that Comcast is deliberately congesting its network connections to force Netflix to pay Comcast for an acceptable connection (2010- +today).

In other countries, including democracies, there are numerous violations. In Canada, rather than seeking a judicial injunction, a telephone ISP used its control of the wires to block the website of a union member during a strike against that very company in July 2005. In the Netherlands, in 2011, the dominant ISP expressed interest in blocking against U.S.-based Whatsapp and Skype.”

I don’t want to live in a world where monopolistic ISPs determine what innovations thrive and which ones die.


The fundamental problem in net neutrality isn’t how fast services can be rendered to clients, it’s that if ISPs have their way, those services users want will never get the chance to prove themselves and survive.

Photo credit:

Technology and Society

How Citizens United is corrupting America and the open web

If you’ve ever Google searched for an image, you’ve encountered two of the strongest tools for digital builders in the modern age: Creative Commons (built by Lawrence Lessig) images, and Linux servers.

Google is built on the back of Linux servers, made possible by a collaboration of digital builders who claim no money, but rather build free software—free in the sense of free speech, not free in the sense of free beer, though most versions of Linux are free in both senses of the word.

Any image you find that is tagged with Creative Commons licences can be used, often with simple attribution. You can use it to build out your next website, your next slide deck, your next sales pitch: whatever you wish.

code(love) with creative commons

code(love) with creative commons

All you are asked to do is to pay it forward. Give the creator a link. Help contribute to open software.

Both of these systems rely on a simple principle: builders should be free to call upon a shared heritage, and move it forward to the benefit of all. Free software has been the kernel that has powered the distributed innovation of this age, from the multi-billion dollar successes of consumer apps like Facebook to Twitter, to entire industries based on big data to 3D printing.

At Facebook, we have always been strong advocates of open software. From our earliest days – when the site was built on PHP, MySQL and memcached – we’ve been privileged to stand on the shoulders of open source giants.

What the richness of open web culture has shown us is that everybody should benefit from a shared and rich tapestry of collective creativity and building. One voice, one vote, and a system that encourages the little guy to get what they can, and pay it forward—this has led to the creation of projects of incredible strength.

Politicians would do well to head the many they are entrusted to represent, and not the few that can buy their time, because this sort of innovation hangs in the balance.

The Supreme Court disagrees. Money, after all, is free speech. It is not to the creators of a vast and rich intellectual heritage that benefit should accrue: it is to the takers, even those who have avoided the law to make it to where they are.

Disney’s movies, based so closely on the Brothers Grimm. Hollywood, moved to the West Coast to avoid Edison’s patent fees. Apple, and Microsoft, built on initial prototypes of others, and stealing. The irony is palpable, but inevitable. The rebel who becomes the incumbent seldom remembers it. Moats are entrenched so that nobody else can join. After all, there are shareholders to look after: shareholders beholden to material wealth and cultural poverty.

That the incumbent has so much access to the system means that the system will always favor those who are seeking to capture creation rather than build on it. Or as Lessig put it: “the government is dependent on the few and not on the many.” And those few are often very focused on ensuring that they remain the few with the ability to influence.

A government that really listens to only a section of its’ people will oversee a stagnant system counter to the innovation that is powering the 21st century. It will fundamentally betray the tenets of its’ own creators: “Madison told us that ‘the people’ meant ‘not the rich more than the poor,’ ” Lessig said. It will mistake money for representation, and ignore what made America great.

Technology and Society

The current state of Bitcoin remittances

Originally posted at Written by Luis Buenaventura, who is the Head of Product at Satoshi Citadel Industries, a Bitcoin startup out of the Philippines. 

——————————————————————————————————————————————————–Remittance is often cited as the one of the primary ways that Bitcoin would change the global financial landscape, by virtue of the cryptocurrency’s microscopic transfer fees and region-agnostic transmission. Advocates and enthusiasts (myself included) often point to exorbitant remittance fees as a sign of an established industry that is ripe for disruption. This recent Business Insider study projects a global savings of 90% (US$42B) if we were to adopt Bitcoin remittances on an worldwide scale.

But what does it take for this paradise of free-flowing bytes and money to actually become a reality? The road ahead, initially paved with libertarian dreams and well-meaning naiveté, has some missing segments that have yet to be filled in.

Bitcoin remittance with code(love)

Bitcoin remittance with code(love)

Half a business

In a recent interview at Let’s Talk Bitcoin, crypto-evangelist Richard Boase refers to Bitpesa, a well-known Bitcoin remittance service based in Kenya, as a great business that’s also “half a business.” Boase doesn’t go into specifics, but it’s easy enough to take a stab at his larger meaning.

Let’s review how the average Bitcoin remittance business in the developing world works.

An overseas customer wants to send money to your home country, so they visit your website and dial in the necessary figures. You respond with a BTC invoice. They whip out their smartphone, scan and confirm the transfer, and bitcoins come flying out of their virtual wallet and into yours. On the local side of the process, you raise the equivalent amount in fiat and deliver it to your customer’s nominated recipient.

Every Bitcoin remittance service is, at its core, just a company that buys up bitcoins, as all you are doing is taking your customers’ BTC and then paying their nominated recipients for it in fiat. This is why it’s only “half a business.” Inevitably, the company will amass more BTC than it needs and run out of fiat to make payouts with, that is, unless it also has a related service that can flip the extra coins.

In order to sustain this constant stream of incoming BTC and outgoing fiat, a remittance provider needs to either be very liquid or be very spry on the trading desks. This is easier when Bitcoin’s market value is rising, but these past few weeks of tepid ups-and-downs have not been kind to the latter strategy.

The Cost of Compliance

Regulatory compliance, as vividly described in an earlier Coindesk piece, is one of the root causes of expensive remittance fees. The United States, as a prime example, blurs the line between customer protection and outright protectionism by requiring money service businesses to obtain licenses in 43 separate states. (In California, for instance, the surety bond starts at $250,000.)

Obtaining a license in the US is the single largest barrier to entry into the remittance industry, and explains at least partially why there has been so little innovation in the space. Bitpesa tellingly opts to avoid the issue altogether, and doesn’t accept customers from the US at all.

The Sneaker API

But getting the bitcoins from your sender over to your home country isn’t the end of the story. Once the BTC has made its trans-oceanic leap, the final challenge is in bridging the last mile, i.e., getting the local currency from your company headquarters into the hands of the waiting recipient.

In the Philippines, as in most Asian countries with substantial diaspora, there are dozens of options: over-the-counter bank deposits, pawnshop cumcash pickup centers, telco-backed mobile wallets, door-to-door delivery.

There are two problems, however. The first is that there’s no clear market leader, so instead of specialising in one fulfilment method, a money transfer business instead needs to somehow integrate with all of them. Second, none of these methods have any kind of web-service automation, so the act of taking funds from the company’s accounts and delivering them to a given fulfilment provider’s branch office must be done by physically visiting the establishment.

The good news is that labor is cheap in the developing world, and the sneakernet is alive and well. There is a substantially larger overhead to managing full-time manpower than a handful of JSON-RPC connections, but given the absence of the latter, we must subsist via the former.

The Final Calculation

Although it is true that Bitcoin reduces the cost of transmission to next to nothing, the network isn’t the most expensive part of the money-transfer value chain. It’s actually compliance and logistics, both of which are sectors that Bitcoin can only address tangentially.

In the short-term, a Bitcoin-powered remittance service will be severely hobbled by these realities and thus can only mount a mildly competitive alternative to traditional providers, and not the mind-blowing sea change that evangelists envision.

In a world where cryptocurrencies were ubiquitous, regulatory compliance could be rendered obsolete and logistics costs could disappear. That paradise might be just down the road, but we’re not quite there yet.


Good food for thought? Check out our Technology and Society section for more! 

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Technology and Society

Why we need programming workshops for everybody

This article is by our managing editor Abhishek Gupta.

A lot of articles about the ‘Girls who Code‘ initiative begin by describing an inspiring story of a woman who would have never ventured into the largely male-populated domain of computer science without the program.

‘Girls who Code’ has taken the world by storm . There are statistics that show that women are grossly under-represented in computer science and that this would help bridge that gap. (57% of Bachelor degrees are awarded to women yet only 18% of Computer Science degrees go to women)

‘Girls who Code’ is a great initiative that is helping to bring about positive change. But what is often not given a second look is that a profound change can be triggered in society if more and more people could learn the skills that result from working in this field. Workshops should not only expand reach not to cover more women—they should expand for people from all walks of life.

Programming Workshop with code(love)

Simon Peyton Jones, a British computer scientist makes a very relevant point when he equates computer science as being one of the basic skills that should be taught in school alongside Physics, History among other things in today’s world. He goes on to explain his thought process saying that when we are all taught Physics at a young age, it helps to demystify things like how a bulb is turned on when you flick a switch – its because of electron movement in the wire connecting the switch and the bulb.

Similarly, a study of computer science can help decipher many of the technological wonders that surround us.

‘Girls who code’ is a dedicated channel that is making efforts to achieve that specific goal, a programming workshop that helps girls achieve their potential in programming.

For everyone who has started on the path to learning more about computer science and learning how to program – there are several problems that one encounters along the way even in the presence of an ever-growing number of online tools and learning platforms.

Many offer courses geared towards making you an expert in a particular programming language or framework. There are even MOOCs that come a bit closer in terms of emulating the real learning experience yet all of them fall short in one respect or another. More often than not, you run into errors and bugs, sometimes things that conceptually don’t make sense and at that point having a teacher who can answer your specific question makes the learning experience much more accessible to everyone. Programming workshops are a boon for direct human interaction and teaching.

Not all beginners have the patience to pore through programming forums such as Stack Overflow to find answers to their questions and this becomes a barrier that pushes them away from pursuing their curiosity further. What ‘Girls who code’ has done is not only to provide women with a conducive environment to learn but more importantly have someone to teach them the ropes in the early part of this learning process and lower the barrier to pursue an interest in computer science.

As a field, computer science is gaining in popularity and is sparking the interest of many people who want to at least try it out if not pursue a career in technology. The growing enrolment in CS50 at Harvard University stands as a testament to this fact.

So maybe we should start looking into setting up camps / offer workshops at major tech companies for people who are interested in learning what computer science is all about, and not only offer them by gender. “Girls who Code” do very good work for girls, and that should thrive and continue—why not have a similar “Everybody who Codes” movement?

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If this inspires you to code, check out our learning lists :)


Technology and Society

Canadian incorporation: what, why, and how.

Sooner or later the question will come up: what should a startup, or any new venture do in Canada with regard to its legal status?

While entrepreneurs should focus on building, there needs to be some strategic thought placed into how the company interacts with stakeholders around it, from investors, to customers. A consideration of legal options is always something that is worth examining.

Incorporation with code(love)

Incorporation with code(love)

There are three distinct legal forms in Canada that are the most likely to pop up: the sole proprietorship, the partnership or Corporation. Incorporation is the process of taking an organization to a corporate legal form, with all of its pros and cons.

A corporation does have three distinct advantages over the other two legal forms.

First, incorporating your business limits the liability of individual shareholders in the event of a lawsuit or bankruptcy, except in the case of fraud. This means that shareholders can lose only the amount that they had invested in the Corporation. For risky startups, this can be a key consideration for those who are not willing to risk all of their individual assets—however, be aware of the fact that banks will often ask you for personal guarantees even if you are incorporated. Still, incorporation does act as a shield between your personal life and the idea you are creating.

Secondly, a Corporation may allow a business to more easily raise and attract investment capital, in particular through the sale of shares, which also allows for greater ease during a change of ownership. For startups looking for venture capital, being incorporated is often a must—and it conveys a certain sense of legitimacy, and ease with which you can add on more investors.

Finally, the Corporation may offer fiscal advantages, as the business may implement effective tax strategies with their financial advisors to lower tax rates, an option not available to their unincorporated counterparts. They can claim losses for example, and perhaps even pay a lower corporate income tax.

Now that we’re done with incorporation in general, there are two specific incorporation types startups have to decide between in Canada.

Federal or Provincial?

In Canada, a Corporation can exist under either a Federal or Provincial Charter. Both offer the same advantages mentioned above, in addition to the possibility of doing business anywhere in the world. Your decision whether to opt for a Provincial or Federal Corporation will, in part, be motivated by the following factors:

1) Industry: Industries, such as telecommunications, are subject to Federal jurisdiction, which would favour a Federal Corporation;

2) Cost: Federal Corporations must register with and pay for registration at both the Federal and Quebec registrars, unlike Quebec Corporations;

3) Director’s Nationality: At least one-third of the board of directors of Federal Corporations must consist of Canadian residents, whereas certain provincial corporations do not have this requirement.

Sometimes when you build, it’s easy to get ahead of yourself and forget that your startup, no matter how exciting it is, has to operate within the law, and hew to certain principles.

You can choose to incorporate yourself, but that could be messy. Many law firms now offer free incorporations or very good packages in order to entice startups to stay with them through financing rounds. One such example is Quebec-based Legal Logik, which offers incorporation for free—you just have to pay for the fees themselves, but they’ll handle all of the legal paperwork free of charge.

It’s this sort of program that will enable builders to create faster, without having to worry so much about the gritty and sometimes messy details creation leaves behind. Digital entrepreneurship, and building out ventures are great ambitions to have—but you’ll need experienced advisors to thrive. Seek them out if you want to go through incorporation, and be sure that you use your skills to create something meaningful—and sustainable.


This is a sponsored article from Legal Logik, and it is purely informational in nature and does not constitute legal advice. This article neither constitutes nor creates an attorney-client relationship. 

Photo credit: qwrrty via photopin cc

Technology and Society

Creating a Startup – The Importance of Now!

Mark Zuckerberg almost instantly started working on his idea for ‘TheFacebook’. The road to building a startup is paved with constant learning. This is true even for Mark.The important thing was that he started on it right away without waiting to acquire all the ‘necessary’ skills before someone else would have stolen his thunder.

Anyone familiar with Economics has heard of economies of scale and how they experience increasing returns to scale – here in the field of technology we are experiencing something similar but turbocharged.

Ray Kurzweil predicts that the dominance of this trend is so overarching that we are fast approaching what he calls the ‘Singularity’ when artificial intelligence transcends organic intelligence. Looking that far, his guess may be as good as anybody’s, but he does make a compelling argument about the importance of the pace of technological change and its extension to all walks of life. From physicists jumping into doing social media analytics (ex: Nexalogy) to people out in developing nations pumping out solutions to meaningful problems (ex: Keepod competing with One Laptop Per Child), anyone with an idea now has the resources at his disposal to give birth to the idea.

What is more interesting though is what is called ‘time to market’ – which is dramatically going down as things become easier from using APIs to send texts to hardware powered by your Raspberry Pi to setting up the process of accepting credit cards online using Stripe in a few minutes. All of these things took weeks and weeks of planning and consideration before. If you are taking too long to get your startup off the ground, the market may just have changed enough so that your idea isn’t relevant anymore.

What does that mean for that billion dollar idea that you wrote down on a restaurant napkin that you’ve tucked away? Well it is time to bring it out and start building it out. Why? Because if you don’t, then someone else will most likely come up with a similar idea, put together a few engineers and have a prototype that beats you to the market.

Build now with code(love)

When they give away t-shirts at hackathons (24 hour coding and prototyping marathons) saying “Fuck it, ship it” they don’t do that just to help you absorb the spirit. They also do it to emphasize the fact that if you don’t follow up on that great idea, someone else will.

The whole entrepreneurial atmosphere is lit up with bright ideas – each with as much potential as the next – the only difference between the ones that succeed and the ones that don’t is the conviction of the entrepreneur to start building not today – but NOW! Given the plethora of online tutorials to create your own websites, apps – there is very little reason to embark on a journey to first acquire the skills and then start building – these processes have now condensed into a single stream that flows together.

Thought getting marketing materials and a social presence up and running is hard ? Even that is now at your fingertips – hire one of the many teams that strive to provide you with an entire package consisting of services that can help you publish blog posts, setup your social media presence, create logos, choose color schemes and all the other 100 things that come with creating a new startup.

With Indiegogo and KickStarter being extremely popular, you can start raising capital today if that is something you feel stopping you from taking the plunge. Haven’t we then covered almost all elements that you could think of in getting at least a basic version of your idea up and running ? Almost ! We are just missing one crucial element – your entrepreneurial drive ! The inner desire to keep pushing, to stay committed when everyone says no, to work that one more hour, to make that one more sales call, to do one more rehash of the design board – all of that makes for the right ingredients to a successful startup. So go out there and get started – Carpe diem!

Technology and Society

It’s time to build a better web.

“Revealing the previously unfathomable reach of U.S. spies has led, for the first time since 9/11, to Americans saying they are more worried about civil liberties abuses than terrorism.

Thank you Edward Snowden, Thomas Drake, William Binney, Laura Poitras, Chelsea Manning, and so many others.

The Constitution of the United States begins with the three words that shook the world, and continues to write out its legacy throughout: “We the people”.

Faced with one of the greatest gifts for scientific innovation, and sustainable creation—an open and free web—the governments of the world have collectively failed where the people can succeed.

It’s time to stop venting about outrage after outrage—and time to take action. It starts with one click below. Protect yourself, and declare you belief in the transformative potential of an open, free web dedicated to a better world.

It is time to rebuild the web into what it always should have been: a place where the artist could build with the dissident who could build with the scientist—openly, and freely.

Reset the Net with code(love)

Technology and Society

Extreme irony, NSA edition.

“[They] stole sensitive, internal communications that would provide a competitor, or adversary in litigation, with insight into the strategy and vulnerabilities of the American entity.”-The United States Department of Justice indicting five Chinese officials for “cyber-espionage” for economic reasons.


A new report based on leaks by Edward Snowden reveals the National Security Agency played a role in the monitoring of a U.S. law firm that represented the Indonesian government during trade disputes with the United States. The document notes the Australian agency “has been able to continue to cover the talks, providing highly useful intelligence for interested U.S. customers.”

Technology and Society

A Children’s Book about Entrepreneurs

Somebody brought up a very interesting point at a panel I attended. It was the sort of moment that sticks with you because it resonated, like a thorn in a rosebed—a sharp point in an otherwise flat surface.

Panels typically bring interesting people together to say somewhat interesting things, but nothing nobody has not heard before.

So it is that when you get an original insight, you can physically feel a certain rush of excitement, and you can mentally have a vista of possibility opened to you that never was before.

The point was that there were no children’s books about entrepreneurs, or at least not one that came to mind easily.

A fair point, I thought.

I remember when I was a kid, I wanted so badly to be Michael Jordan. I didn’t have the height or the jumping for it, but it didn’t stop me from dedicating hours of work into a pursuit that was never really going to go anywhere, but which helped me grow nonetheless.

When we were all kids, I’m sure we all dreamed of being many things: astronauts, basketball players, firefighters. I wager that few of us would have had the foresight to think of being an entrepreneur.

That probably has to do with the fact that children’s literature is scarce with real heroes, but filled with imagined ones.

What would a children’s book about entrepreneurs look like, I wondered?

If I were to write one, it would go something like this—

“Sally is an entrepreneur. She’s in front of a computer now. But she’s not playing games. She’s building things. She’s building things for me and you.”

Entrepreneurs with code(love) from

Entrepreneurs with code(love) from

“Sally is an entrepreneur.

She’s in front of a computer now.

But she’s not playing games.

She’s building things.

She’s building things for me and you.”

Technology and Society

The NSA opened Pandora’s Box

For a long time, it has been a well-known fact that the rule of law in America applies separately for different groups. The old line goes something like this: steal one dollar, and you’re a thief. Steal a million, and you’re the king.

Steal one dollar, and you’re a thief. Steal a million, and you’re the king.

We saw this in 2008 where the only Goldman employee criminally prosecuted during that period was guilty for the sin of taking open-source code from Goldman he had worked on for documentation purposes—as opposed to trickery that cost America billions and perhaps even trillions in lost opportunity and jobs.

This has never been so blatantly obvious until now. In his latest revelations, Edward Snowden has claimed that the NSA spied on human rights groups in America, and used algorithms to tease out metadata from groups of individuals never suspected of plotting or doing actual terror attacks—individuals who were “guilty by association”.

This breaks so much of the spirit that governs the Constitution, but more importantly, it breaks so many laws that this assertion is breath-taking in of itself.

If these assertions are true, we are back to the days of the old, illegal, and covert COINTELPRO program, a FBI program that unscrupulously, and covertly monitored such radicals as Martin Luther King Jr. and Albert Einstein for advocating on civil rights.

Imagine a world where I could come under surveillance and special targeting for writing this piece, and you could as well by reading it.

This may be the world we live in now.

The NSA has opened Pandora’s box.

It is now the duty of those working for a free, fair, and open Internet to close it back up—no matter how hard that may be.

Telling the Truth to the NSA with code(love)

Telling the Truth to the NSA with code(love)