Edible Octopod?

Mould Revisions following a Pour Attempt

As reported in my previous post, I created some moulds out of PLA for silicon casting. The second version of the mould fit together well. It had a single pour hole in the larger outside block.

When pouring silicon into this hole, there was no route for air to escape the mould and the silicon was slow moving within the mould. The silicon began to harden before even a fraction of the pour was complete.

Despite the small amount of silicon that got into the mould, it was extremely difficult to open, showing that the use of a release agent is necessary. Also, the slowness of the pour shows that a retarder is required.

I’ve made two versions of an updated mould. The larger mould piece has additional channels for which silicon to flow in and small air channels for air to flow out. There are now two identical pour holes and two smaller air holes. The airholes are connected to a narrow channel running for the length of the mould, which connects to the topmost part of the internal cavities. This should allow air to escape and if some silicon gets into the channels, it should not cause a problem.

Dual pour hole, small air vents

The other half of the mould has two new designs. The aesthetically superior one cuts out a round channel for silicon flow. This channel is the same diameter as the cut-outs of the other part of the mould, which should give it a unified look. However, this creates an overhang. As the tentacle will be cast in a soft material, it should hopefully be possible to peel the tentacle from the mould without doing it damage.

Because the overhang may fail, I’ve also created a version of that half of the mould that has narrower protrusions. This should also allow better pouring channels for silicon, but will cause the walls of the finished tentacle to be much thicker on the outside edge.

Notches for better flow

Bioplastic

In the mean time, I’ve been experimenting with bioplastic and food waste. PLA is sort of biodegradable and recyclable, but silicon is not.

Banana Peel Plastic

My first attempt at bioplastic was overly ambitious. Banana peels contain starch, so I used those. I used a lime peel as an acidic element to get free ions. I added coffee grounds as well. For preservative, I added a mixture of sage and tea tree essential oils. And used glycerol as the plasticiser.

Ingredients

  • 1 lime (post juicing for another recipie)
  • 3 banana peels
  • 1 moka pot’s worth of spent coffee grounds
  • 0.5 tsp tea tree oil
  • 1 tsp sage oil
  • 0.5 tsp vinegar
  • 2 tsp glycerol

Procedure

  • boil the limes and insufficient amount amount of time. save the water.
  • boil the banana peels 30 minutes
  • dry the banana peels 30 minues
  • blend the fruit and coffee with enough lime water to make a paste.
  • cook until thickens
  • Apply to final shape
  • Bake at a low oven temperature to dry

Results

The shape I attempted to make was a flower pot, moulded over an empty jar. While the material did mostly bond together, it took more than a week to fully dry and has had some cracking.

Some of this may be due to how ripe the peels were- presumably this caused some of the starches to convert to sugars. Also, I failed to remove any parts of any peels, so fibres and stems got into the final product. While these were unintentional, they have probably aided the stability of the structure.

Bioplastic Plant Pot

Corn Flour Plastic

My second attempt used corn flour (also known as corn starch), vinegar, salt, glycerol and coffee grounds.

For this, I used slightly more corn flour than I’d use for gravy, as much liquid as I would use for custard, a teaspoon of glycerol, a teaspoon of vinegar and a few pinches of rock salt.

I cooked all of the ingredients together until they started to thicken like custard. I then transferred the mixture to a takeway container and added a teaspoons of sage essential oil as a preservative. I applied the mixture to paper maché animal horns, and put it in the oven at a low heat.

These took a day to dry, but the plastic has come out successfully. While I don’t have any good measurements for ingredient ratios, it seems I used a large amount of glycerol relative to the corn starch. This created a very flexible rubbery plastic, not altogether unlike silicon in consistency.

Paper mâché Horns

Bioplastic Actuators

Previous research into bioplastic soft robotics is available. The paper, Soft Pneumatic Gelatin Actuator for Edible Robotics [DOI: 10.1109/IROS.2017.8206525], especially caught my fancy. While a theatrical robot falls outside of their potential applications (which charmingly suggests “food transportation where the robot does not require additional payload because the robot is the food.” (Shintake, et al., 2017, p 6221)), an edible robot is a biodegradable robot.

Using food for non food applications also has ethical issues, however. Part of my goal with bioplastics is to utilise food waste and as such, I will be investigating the possibility of highly flexible banana peel actuators. Although the starch in these peels is edible, it’s usually discarded. Using this for plastic thus reduces food waste and potentially may help highlight the culturally-based waste of edible items.

Finally, I can make this kind of plastic in my kitchen and don’t need to access a workshop.

First Tentacle Attempt

My first bioplastic tentacle section used an unmeasured corn flour plastic similar to the plastic above. It contained no vinegar but instead copious amounts of sea salt, as this also frees up ions and may help preserve the plastic. For additional acidity, I scavenged a lime that had not been juiced to the fullest possible extent and squeezed the remainder into the plastic. The preservative was 1 tsp tea tree oil. As I did not strain the lime, some pulp got in, probably rendering moot the various preservative attempts.

I brushed the inside of the mould with sunflower oil. Corn flour bioplastic starts to set even more quickly than silicon and there are really only a few seconds to decant it into the mould. As such, I did not use the pours holes, but instead spooned the plastic into the mould and struck the lid with my hand to force it down. Excess plastic leaked from the top and pour holes.

The drying process for starch bioplastic seems to rely on access to air, so it was still completely uncured after several days and was damaged by opening the mould to check on it.

Uncured bioplastic

Shintake et al, mentioned above, used gelatin-based bioplastic, which may be better suited to this application. This is also often a food-waste product, however, it’s made via an industrial process using waste from the meat industry (Etxabide, et al., 2017) and is not something I could really make at home. I’ll be looking at whether I can extract pectin from fruit peels and use it for plastic.

Unresolved Issues

As all the tentacles need to be identical, proper measurements and consistency will become extremely important.

My moulds are designed to create the tentacle in two parts which must be joined together with an airtight seal. While this seems straightforward in silicon, I don’t yet know how difficult it will be with bioplastic. Perhaps a hybrid silicon/bioplastic tentacle is the answer, as I do not actually want my robot to be eaten.

The durability of this material is also unknown. One design studio on YouTube says that essential oils act as preservatives, but it’s unclear how long this prevents decay.

References

Bilgin, E. (2013). Banana peel plastic – Science DIY. [online] Sites.google.com. Available at: https://sites.google.com/site/scidiy/diy-plastic/banana-peel-plastic [Accessed 7 May 2019].

Borroni, L. (2018). DIY bioplastics from orange peels and ground coffee – YouTube. [online] Youtube.com. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/embed/PrUjjzznwEE [Accessed 7 May 2019].

Etxabide, A., Uranga, J., Guerrero, P. and de la Caba, K. (2017). Development of active gelatin films by means of valorisation of food processing waste: A review. Food Hydrocolloids, [online] 68, pp.192-198. Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0268005X16303605 [Accessed 7 May 2019].

Shintake, J., Sonar, H., Piskarev, E., Paik, J. and Floreano, D. (2017). Soft pneumatic gelatin actuator for edible robotics. 2017 IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS).

wikiHow Staff Editor (2019). How to Make Bioplastic. [online] wikiHow. Available at: https://www.wikihow.com/Make-Bioplastic [Accessed 7 May 2019].

Octopod

I’ve been working for several months on a soft robotics project, on which I’m making very slow progress. The goal is to create a soft robotic octopod (or hexapod) – basically an octopus with inflatable tentacles that can walk around.

I’ve been working on the tentacle design thus far. They’re to be trefoil tentacles. Here’s a video of the tentacles which gave me the idea:

My tentacles are hopefully going to be much longer and won’t look like that, probably. I’ve gone though several design revisions. Most of the early versions were hand-built in clay.

Life-like

Still-life Tentacles

I started by making something that looked like an actual tentacle. The idea was that I would make a cast of it in vinamold. I made clay models of spines, also cast in vinamold, that I was going to use to make wax spines. The spines would be dangled down inside the mould of the outer tentacle and silicon poured around them. Then, they’d be melted back out. The voids they left behind could be pressurised with air to make the tentacle move.

First Tentacle Design

The problems with this design became quickly apparent, but the most major was the asymmetry of the exterior shape was going to make it difficult to calculate the angle of the tentacle. If all sides are equal, the pressure of the interior spaces correlates directly with the angle, but having varying thicknesses around the outside makes that much harder to compute.

Tentacle air pockets

Symmetric in Vinamold

The next version uses a single model for all three sides of the tentacle. The curved part faces the outside, and the flat parts are joined in the middle to make a triangular tube down the centre of the tentacle.

I made the spine out of wood (not pictured) and then sculpted around it with clay to create the outer skin layer. I cast both parts in vinamold.

(Failed) Clay Tentacle

The previous version had a vertical mould, but this one was horizontal. I suspended the wax spines in the mould by casting them around a thick wire, which I embedded into the mould for the outer skin.

Floating wax

However, the wax floated in the silicon and the horizontal pour caused lamination (peel-y, layers of silicon rather than a uniform solid). When I melted the wax out, the tentacle was not air tight. It was much thicker on the rounded side than the flat side.

Failed Tentacle

Vacuum Moulded

I realised I could repair the troubled tentacle by casting just a flat side for the inside layer and gluing it and the outside layer together. The best way to do this would be to do the outside layer and the inside layers separately. I also wanted the layers to be thinner overall.

Once again, I made a model in clay, but this time was very careful to keep only a tin layer around the spine. I made a vacuum mould of the spine and then added a thin skin to that spine and took a second vacuum mould. With some help from the workshop staff, I built a holder for the pair of them, with a little funnel in the top.

Vacuum Plastic Mould

I could make a vertical pour of the silicon, which would be much more likely to hold. However, the plastics didn’t align perfectly around the edges and when I did a test pour with a cornstarch solution roughly as thick as the liquid silicon, it leaked out.

3d Printed prototype

Almost every write up of soft robotics I’ve found uses 3d printing rather than hand sculpting. I decided to switch to this more conventional approach. Using OpenScad, I wrote a little program to create a parametric mould for a tentacle.

I have terrible luck with the 3d printer owned by Kent’s School of Music and Fine Arts and the first print glitched.

Failed Print

This was intended to be a short, self-contained third of a tentacle. The flat part on the left is the inside edge. The middle box is shows the outer edge. The part on the right provides the hollow sections for the void.

In addition to the print glitching, Cura silently resized it to fit into the printer, which would have made the walls too narrow. To prevent future glitches and to keep things at the correct size, I’m now printing every component separately.

Printing at Home

Almost all of the work up to this point was done in the worskshop of Kent’s School of Music and Fine Arts. I received extensive help and support from George Morris and Georgia Wright.

As the workshop was closing for Easter and I had bad luck with prints, a few people suggested I get my own printer. I got an Ultimaker 3, but was too impatient to do a self-contained, short full tentacle again.

To make a longer tentacle, it would need to be broken into sections. The first section is the length closest to the robot’s body. One end had no input or output of air. The other end has an output. The middle section has an input at one end and an output at the other. (This section can be repeated to create a much longer tentacle.) The end section has an input but no output.

I started with the first section. The end closest to the robot is at the top of this photo and then end that joins up with the subsequent section is at the bottom.

Tentacle mould

My first print did not fit together correctly, so I’ve changed the program and am trying again. The most recent version is the one pictured.

This is taking longer than I anticipated. However, over the course of things, I’ve learned to sculpt, to make rubber moulds, and to do vacuum moulding as well as other workshop-related skills.

I’m hoping to get an inflatable tentacle within the next few weeks.

The SynthDefs for my Christmas EP

As threatened, I have once again made some Christmas music.

If you enjoy (or hate it, or are indifferent), please consider donating to the UKLGIG. cafdonate.cafonline.org/111#/DonationDetails They support LGBTQI+ people through the asylum and immigration process. Their vision is a world where there is equality, dignity, respect and safety for all people in the expression of their sexual or gender identity.

Or, if you are in the US, please donate to the National Center for Transgender Equality secure2.convio.net/ncftge/site/Donation2;jsessionid=00000000.app268b?df_id=1480&mfc_pref=T&1480.donation=form1&NONCE_TOKEN=C5EA18E62F736227261DC4CE5C50ADBE

The notes in the 5 movements all come from the same pop song, but in 4 of the movements, they pass through a class I (accidentally) wrote called MidiMangler. It’s undocumented, but the constructor expects the kind of midi events that come from SimpleMIDIFile in wslib and the .p method spits out a pbind.

The instruments are some of the sample I used a couple of years ago, but the organ is new. It’s based on one from http://sccode.org/1-5as but modified to be played with a PmonoArtic.

SynthDef(\organ, {| freq = 440, gate=1, amp=0.25, pan=0 |
    // from http://sccode.org/1-5as
    var lagdur, env, saw, panner;

    lagdur = 0.4;

    saw = VarSaw.ar(Lag.kr(freq-440)+440,
        width:LFNoise2.kr(1).range(0.2, 0.8) *
        SinOsc.kr(5, Rand(0.0, 1.0)).range(0.7,0.8));

    env = EnvGen.kr(Env.asr(Rand(0.5, 0.7), 1, Rand(1.0, 2.0), Rand(-10.0, -5.0)), gate, doneAction:2);

    amp = Lag.ar((amp / 4) * (Lag.ar(LFClipNoise.ar(lagdur.reciprocal, 0.1), lagdur) + 1)); // tremolo

    panner = Pan2.ar(saw, Lag.kr(pan,1), env * amp);

    Out.ar(0, panner);
}).add;

The other instruments are the default synthdef *cough*, a Risset bell and Karplus Strong – taken directly from a help file with no changes. These are presented at the bottom for the sake of completion. The other sound is a bomb sample I found on freesound.

The video is taken from an atom bomb test video, but slowed down and stretched. I used ffmpeg to do this. The original film was 24 frames per second. I used a ffmpeg filter to create a lot of extra in-between frames and then, separately, changed the frame rate to be much slower. The original film was a bit over 20 seconds and got stretched out to 15 minutes. The really low frame rate is a bit choppy, but I think more tweening would have just increased distortion. The commands for that were:

% ffmpeg -i trees-bomb.mp4 -filter:v "minterpolate='fps=180'" 180trees.mkv
% ffmpeg -i 180trees.mkv -filter:v "setpts=33.4*PTS" strch180.mk

The other day, I read someone putting for the idea that apocalyptic thinking is so profoundly unhelpful as to be self-indulgent. Climate change is not going out with a bang, but a very prolonged whimper, whilst, for the duration, failing to make any significant changes. We can address it and avoid many of the worst impacts, but we need to get very serious about it immediately. If we can build thousands of expensive, terrifying bombs just in case there might be a war nobody wants, surely, we can afford to spend some of that resource averting a disaster that we know is actually coming.

SynthDef(\bell, // a church bell (by Risset, described in Dodge 1997)
    {arg freq=440, amp=0.1, dur=4.0, out=0, pan;
        var env, partials, addPartial, son, sust, delay;

        freq = freq * 2;
        sust = 4;
        amp = amp/11;
        partials = Array.new(9);
        delay = Rand(0, 0.001);

        //bell = SinOsc(freq);

        addPartial = { |amplitude, rel_duration, rel_freq, detune, pan=0|
            partials.add((
                Pan2.ar(
                    FSinOsc.ar(freq*rel_freq+detune, Rand(0, 2pi), amp * amplitude* (1 + Rand(-0.01, 0.01))), pan)
                * EnvGen.kr(
                    Env.perc(0.01, sust*rel_duration* (1 + Rand(-0.01, 0.01)), 1, -4).delay(delay), doneAction: 0))
            ).tanh /2
        };

        //addPartial.(1, 1, 0.24, 0, Rand(-0.7, 0.7));
        addPartial.(1, 1, 0.95, 0, Rand(-0.7, 0.7));
        addPartial.(0.67, 0.9, 0.64, 1, Rand(-0.7, 0.7));
        addPartial.(1, 0.65, 1.23, 1, Rand(-0.7, 0.7));
        addPartial.(1.8, 0.55, 2, 0, 0); // root
        addPartial.(2.67, 0.325, 2.91, 1, Rand(-0.7, 0.7));
        addPartial.(1.67, 0.35, 3.96, 1, Rand(-0.7, 0.7));
        addPartial.(1.46, 0.25, 5.12, 1, Rand(-0.7, 0.7));
        addPartial.(1.33, 0.2, 6.37, 1, Rand(-0.7, 0.7));

        son = Mix(partials).tanh;
        son = DelayC.ar(son, 0.06, Rand(0, 0.02));
        EnvGen.kr(Env.perc(0.01, sust * 1.01), doneAction:2);

        Out.ar(out, son);
}).add;
SynthDef("plucking", {arg amp = 0.1, freq = 440, decay = 5, coef = 0.1, pan=0;

    var env, snd, panner, verb;

    freq = freq + Rand(-10.0, 10.0);
    env = EnvGen.kr(Env.linen(0, decay, 0).delay(Rand(0, 0.001)), doneAction: 2);
    snd = Pluck.ar(
        in: WhiteNoise.ar(amp),
        trig: Impulse.kr(0),

        maxdelaytime: 0.1,
        delaytime: freq.reciprocal,
        decaytime: decay,
        coef: coef);

    //verb = FreeVerb.ar(snd);
    panner = Pan2.ar(snd, pan);
    Out.ar(0, panner);
}).add;


Canon Fodder

I’ve made Christmas albums the last two years and I feel sort of obligated to do another one, although this year is rather a late start.

I’m just listening to what spotify is telling me were my top tracks of 2018 and one lurking in there is the 1812 Overture, which is incredibly cheesy, but is redeemed by it’s cannon fire. I only know of two pieces with canons in them, which suggests there is rather a shortage.

Obviously, as a composer who feels vaguely compelled to put out an album at short notice, I’m well-positioned to address this dire shortage. Indeed, I can think of no Christmas songs with cannons in them at all.

The other piece I know of with cannons in it is Beethoven’s Wellington’s Victory, which doesn’t wait for the end for the big payout, but has cannons starting early and booming often. I almost hate to admit this, but they get really boring. The more heteronormative* model of music structure seems to work best for explosions. Although, the piece is just terrible throughout, with themes from God Save the [Monarch], Rule Britannia and For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow, it is unbearable. The lack of adequate build-up for the cannon fire is only one of it’s sins – although certainly the one with the greatest grinding, grating duration.

This extremely through analysis of the use of cannons in music implies that extremely bombastic Christmas music is called for.

This isn’t the world we dreamed of, but it’s the world we’ve got.

* Yeah, I went there. I’ve got a critique of Feminine Endings, in which I make the argument that some of it is inspired by TERF attacks on Sandy Stone, but I was advised that this would not be a brilliant career move and I should let the dated past stay there. But, I dunno, some of that text actually is useful – the metaphors are really apt when it comes to things like this piece in particular.

The Election is Over (Let’s Go Back to Postcards)

Democrats control the House now, which is fantastic news! However, most of the assaults on trans rights have been coming straight from Trump, so we need to keep fighting.

In my previous post, I asked people to participate in a post card campaign. This is still ongoing. Please chip in! If you are outside the US, you can print the postcards in A6 format. Or, if you are in the US and going to Kinkos or the like, you might find that 2×2 is the best format.

Stack of stamped postcards

I’ve had my best luck getting people to put their names down by talking to people and asking them. Response has been overwhelmingly positive. My spouse says that these conversation are more important than the cards themselves. She says that by asking well-meaning liberals to consider trans rights, I’m asking them to think about things they haven’t previously considered, helping them gain empathy and converting them into allies. I’ve certainly seen people go from politely curious to fully engaged after only a very brief chat. As a part of this, I’ve been mostly going to parties and talking to friends of friends. I have not been disclosing during these conversation, but sharing worries about my friends in the US.

Another way to get people to fill these out is to just leave them around. They don’t use normal stamps from the UK, so I come back to collect them. I’ve left them with some text:

Stand up for the trans community in the US!

The Trump administration plans to ‘define transgender people out of existence.’ Put your name on a postcard to let them know that this is unacceptable.

Then either post the card yourself (don’t forget to attach a £1.25 stamp) or drop it in the box here, and we’ll post it for you.

Thank you for your help.

Contact: [My email address]

I’ve done some regrettable shoebox painting for this (I’m lying and telling people it was done by children.) A cereal box is roughly the same dimensions as a sheet of paper and can be tacked to a notice board. Cereal box with postcards

The election was just the beginning of the work we need to do to make the US safe for vulnerable people. This project has been easier than I thought it was going to be and has built meaningful connections. I’ve sent more than 160 postcards since I started. Before this, I spent months sitting in front of my computer fretting at the news. If we all took the time we spent doing that and directed half of it to campaigns like this, we could build a tremendous mass movement to oust Trump, to protect trans rights, migrant rights, and the environment. We are the ones we have been waiting for. We won’t be erased because we will stand up and demand to be seen.

Ways to support trans rights!

There’s a lot of good actions people can do to try to counter the latest Trump attack on trans people. Marching is good. Writing letters to all your local papers is very good. Like really all of them from the regular paper, to the free advertiser to the Bingo Bugle. When the letters get published, forward them to your elected representatives, the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services. You can also write to those people directly. A paper letter carries more weight than an email, especially if you’re writing to somebody on the other side. (Here is the DHHS’s address.)

You probably know some people who are well-meaning allies, but are not going to show up to a march or write any kind of letter. (No hate. Not everybody can do everything.) These folks, however, would be willing to sign a postcard. This is less good than a letter, but it’s better than nothing.

Linked here are two PDFs of postcards. Postcard4x6.pdf is a standard American 4×6 postcard format. PostcardA6.pdf is a metric A6 format postcard (in the size and shape used by every other country on earth). These are grayscale, so printing is relatively cheap.

If you print these out and take them to things, allies who don’t have the spoons for bigger actions will probably be willing to help with this one. If a lot of post starts arriving at DHHS, this will help. I went to a cabaret tonight and got like 50 of these filled out. I’ll take a stack to work tomorrow. I’m going to give a bunch to my friend who is active in a lefty church, so he can pass them out on Sunday. None of these folks would have done anything if I hadn’t asked for this easy thing.

We #WontBeErased

P.S. Also, please don’t forget to vote.

Hello American Allies

The New York Times is reporting that the Trump administration is trying to ‘define trans out of existence’. Of course, you can’t erase people by changing definitions, but it is certainly within the federal government’s powers to make the lives of trans people significantly more difficult. The consequences of the Trump administration’s actions would be extremely dire.

This change in definition is coming from the Department of Health and Human Services. They have an Office of Civil Rights. Alas, this is is headed by a Trump political appointee, but they are reachable by the public. While emailing them is possible, I suspect it’s more useful to send snail mail or fax. The pile of documentation is harder to ignore. There is a service that allows users to send a limited number of free faxes per day. Upload a PDF and send it to your regional office. I’ve put my own letter at the bottom of this post.

I’d also like to suggest you contact your representatives and two senators. Even if you know they agree that trans people deserve civil rights, it’s helpful to them if they can say there’s been an outpouring of concern. And if they don’t agree, an outpouring may help change their minds, especially so close to an election.

Speaking of which, I’d like to encourage you to vote – and to do so strategically. This is an emergency situation for trans people and many other vulnerable groups. Voting for a Democrat won’t overthrow capitalism, but a lot of people live in the wedge issues that separate the parties. Vote for the people who can’t vote.

Fellow Americans abroad, it’s not too late. You can still request your absentee ballot. If you’ve requested your ballot and haven’t received it, you can get a backup ballot for overseas voters called the Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot. Depending on where you are elligible to vote, some states will accept this ballot even if you have not previously registered.

 

 

Example Letter

Dear Sir or Madam,

I am writing to oppose the proposed change with regard to gender. Making this fixed, genetic, and unchangeable flies in the face of medical opinion and common sense. A significant minority of people do change their genders. Trying to prevent this is a serious violation of their civil rights with no discernable state interest. This is unamerican.

Relying on genetics is also unscientific, as there are many people who’s physical sex characteristics are at odds with their genes. The Olympics quit using this definition after a woman who was found to be genetically male later gave birth – thus showing that the tests are not reliable even for people who are not transgender.

I strongly encourage the department of health and human services to do it’s job of protecting health instead of going out of it’s way to harm transgender people.

Thank you very much for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

More on the Federation

Previously, I posted about the Federation – that is, the social network running on the Diaspora* protocol. In that post I mentioned that moderation, in general, is not great on many pods.

The very next post to show up on my stream was a transphobic meme. On the federation, the strong anti-censorship position means that for some users, the block button is controversial! Unfortunately, the mobile app I use(d) for that network was developed by somebody who felt that way, and thus I saw the meme and had no means to block it from my phone client.

But I also claimed that rolling your own pod is fairly difficult and this turns out to be not entirely correct! If you run a small(ish) pod, you (and some community members) can set the moderation rules to be as strict or lenient as you’d like. If you moderate against transphobia, users on your pod won’t see transphobia in the LGBT hashtag unless one of your users posts it, which you can take action on. Or they’re following a transphobe, which, again, they or you can block. Pods are communities, so it’s possible to establish a respectful community of a manageable size.

The easy way to deploy a pod, which I just learned of, is on a raspberry pi, via syncloud.

It’s also possible to join the federation of Diaspora pods via Hubzilla and Friendica, but you may find that the look and feel of a regular Diaspora pod is a bit more user friendly, especially if you’re hoping to attract your non-technical friends.

Because Diaspora is designed around privacy concerns, if you are running an online support group or something similar, rolling your own pod for that usage is an example of a good use-case. There is a lot right in how Diaspora was designed and small pods, deployed for communities offer a lot of good functionality. If you want a social hook on your project and you don’t want to use trumpbook, putting up a pod might be the right choice for you.

The Federation

Remember the days before Facebook, when people were on MySpace or Classmates Reunited, or Friendster? Alas, all those sites lost too many users and stopped making money and shut down. And the sites that were supposed to kill Facebook, like Ello, which failed to gain critical mass, never made any money and shutdown. Or Diaspora*, which everyone was on for 5 minutes, but it was kind of alpha, so people mostly wandered away from and then it didn’t shut down.

Diaspora* wasn’t a commercial project and never needed to make money for investors. It just needed to fundraise enough to keep the servers turned on, which it did. Some people kept using it. And that’s all it takes for a non-corporate network: some interested users and paying the server fees.

Diaspora’s software is still being developed and is a lot more robust and faster than it was during it’s 15 minutes of fame. Of course, the servers have fewer users than they did back then, but are still fairly gigantic.

Facebook’s active user base is a lot bigger than many countries, so they have a lot of computers behind the scenes, working together so that, to you, it looks like everything is one one computer. This requires a lot of central control. Diaspora doesn’t follow this model. Instead, it’s more like email. If I use hotmail and you use gmail, we can still send each other letters, we just know that our email address is our users name AND the server name. Diaspora is like that, so my diaspora address is celesteh@joindiaspora.com. It looks like an email address because it has a user name and a server name, but it’s not for email, it’s for social networking.

Hotmail and gmail are operated separately, but they both understand how to send email. Similarly, all the diaspora servers, called ‘pods’, are separate from each other and are run by different people or groups of people. There are less than 300 pods, many of which have tens or hundreds of thousands of user accounts. (Maybe including your account from back in the day, waiting for you to log back in.) All of these pods, together with their ability to communicate is called ‘The Federation.’

The Federation is still going and has more active users than you might guess. A lot of people leaving facebook found their old diaspora accounts and logged back in! But they probably found that most of their old contacts weren’t still active. I still have my old account, but I don’t log in every day. Diaspora is built to protect privacy and I can think of some great use cases, but it’s hard to deploy. It’s also built to resist censorship, which was a major issue at the time it was designed, which means also that it’s hard to moderate.

Part of the difficulty of moderation is the size. It would take a large team to deal with tens of thousands of users, since figuring out if somebody is misbehaving requires a lot of time and looking at context. But also, the anti-censorship values have lead to a lot of moderators to take a hands-off approach and thus they tolerate racist posts and hate speech because they don’t want to censor. They say people can block each other, but I don’t find this to be sufficient. Of course, somebody setting up their own pod could take a different approach, but, again, they’re still difficult to deploy.

The Federation, for all it’s faults, does respect your privacy and isn’t trying to make money off your data. It’s not my favourite part of the internet, but it’s better than facebook. I do still log in. It is possible for communities of respectful groups to arise and most of the conversations I have on there are pleasant.

If we know each other on twitter or facebook, do connect to me on diaspora and say hi. I’ll give a Blessing to anybody leaving facebook!

Introducing Blessings – a new kind of #shitcoin

#ICO Announcement!

Introducing Blessings – a new kind of #shitcoin.

Coins are minted when I [henceforth: the issuer] ‘bless’ a person [henceforth: the owner]. This is worth one coin, which belongs to the person who receives the blessing – the owner. This blessing takes place via a post to social media which @s the account who receives the blessing. An entry for this is entered into the ledger.

Coins can be sold and traded, also via social media, by making a post announcing that this has occurred. This must @ the new owner and also the entity acting as the banker, who will update the #ledger.

Coins may also be redeemed – in this process, they are returned to the issuer in exchange for short musical compositions. Owners of coins may occasionally be asked for favours by the issuer, but, as is usual with favours, have a right to refuse.

There will be a staged rollout of gradually upgrading the ledger backend.

[first brain] A shitcoin monetising relationships on social media. [second brain] A shitcoin with the ledger in a google doc. [third brain] A shitcoin with the ledger managed by a fediverse server. [fourth brain] A shitcoin where every coin has an identity on the scuttlebutt mesh network with a activitypub bridge

In version 1.0, the issuer will also act as the banker. The ledger will be manually updated in google docs. This ledger is viewable to all. It will contain: the URL of the ledger, all issuer accounts and all banker accounts. This is currently online at: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1VhEIdQ8lya6BxS8IzljquTQ5MkAP8qtpZfK_J4FfXEw/edit?usp=sharing

Every coin will have a unique ID, the owner’s social media account, and the URL of the post in which the change of ownership occurred. Each coin will maintain a history of owners and transactions. Coins are atomic units and can not be split.

Version 2.0 will automate banker activities – each coin and the banker will have an #activitypub account on a server dedicated to the currency. Each coin will post a status as it’s ownership changes and be able to respond to queries about it’s current status.

In version 3.0, each coin will have a #scuttlebutt ledger and thus their record of existence will be maintainable over mesh, and they won’t require a server or network. However, there will be a bridge to activitypub to mirror all ownership changes to the #fediverse.

FAQ

  1. Q: How does someone get blessings?

    A: People who wish for blessings may ask for them. They may also be minted in response to especially good shitposting or acts of friendship.

  2. Q: How are they redeemed for musical compositions?

    A: Owners wishing to redeem their blessings should contact the issuer to discuss what sort of music they would like.

  3. Q: Will there be support for additional social media platforms?

    A: By design, coins can only be minted on platforms used by the issuer.

  4. Q: Will there be a Diaspora* mirror for when the coins get their own social media presence?

    A: The issuer will happily deploy a Diaspora* mirror if one gets written, but has no current plans to develop one.

  5. Q: What if an owner moves to a new social media account?

    A: This would be handled just as if it were a trade between two people on separate accounts.

  6. Q: What if an owner’s server goes offline and they cannot make a post about the coin’s new ownership?

    A: The owner must contact the banker or issuer with evidence that they are the same person.

  7. Q: Are the coins susceptible to hacking or impersonation?

    A: Just like every other digital currency, there are many vectors in which coins can be permanently lost or stolen.

  8. Q: What is the crypto aspect of this currency?

    A: Blessings are digital currency shitcoins, but will not be until version 3.0.

  9. Q: Blessings rely on a single authority to facilitate trades. What happens if the issuer dies or leaves social media?

    A: All relationships end eventually and when they do, their value lives on in memory. The value of blessings will also be in their record and memory, but will no longer generate new records or memories.