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The Interplanetary File-system must be one of the most interesting technical concepts I've come across lately.

[warning: the below is pretty technical. Likely both confused and confusing, written to help me et my head round IPFS]

Globally distributed file-storage is something that's been just around the corner for a long time now. Bittorrent and the like got us 90% of the way there, but functioned as mechanisms for sharing single files, rather than as a layer of infrastructure for other applications to be built on.

To download a file (as with bittorrent) you query its hash in a Distributed Hash Table. You get a list of users storing that file, and download it from them. As a file becomes more popular it becomes cached by more users, so no one node gets overloaded -- again like bittorrent. The IPFS designers are also leaving room for more ambitious incentive schemes like Filecoin.

As for uploading: each user has a writeable directory, with an address generated from a keypair. This means the system can enforce only one user being able to write to a directory, without needing any central authority. Only you can upload to your directory, because only you can sign uploads with the private key corresponding to the public key in your directory name.

There's also a git-like version history built into the filesystem. This feels like overkill to me. The advantage, though, is that you can provide a mutable-seeming directory structure, while under the surface the directory is an immutable data structure, namely a Merkle Tree. It also means that files don't get deleted -- the user just commits a version of the directory without the files. And perhaps you hope that other nodes won't store the old data, but you have no way to enforce that.

Here's how creator Juan Benet describes it:


IPFS provides a high through-put content-addressed block storage model, with content-addressed hyper links. This forms a generalized Merkle DAG, a data structure upon which one can build versioned file systems, blockchains, and even a Permanent Web. IPFS combines a distributed hashtable, an incentivized block exchange, and a self-certifying namespace. IPFS has no single point of failure, and nodes do not need to trust each other.
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I spent last week in a kind of blissful collective hallucination. I was in Italy for a meeting of a loose pan-European network of activists, hackers, artists, policy wonks, and others I can't even pretend to classify.

I say Italy. But this was Sassi/Matera, which must be the most extraordinary place I've ever visited. Supposedly one of the longest-inhabited places in the world, it's a series of caves which have gradually been built into a town over the past 9,000 years. Everything is intricately folded in on itself, and you can barely tell where the hills end and the hills begin. It feels like an Escher building, or that scene from Labyrinth with all the upside-down stairwells.



So: impossible location. Impossible people -- everybody with some convoluted, nomadic backstory. The rockstar turned economist, the materials scientist turned artist, the anarchist intellectual with one foot in the Pentagon, the Burner metamours building a flying wind farm. And on and on, through forty-odd bizarre biographies.

Somehow it all gelled, instantly, into a deep community. I've never had such an experience, of people turning from strangers into genuine friends over the matter of a few days. It stood outside the usual conference behaviour of status games and self-promotion. People who'd never met, from totally different backgrounds, would sit on the cave floor together for hours, teasing out the implications of questions I wouldn't even have managed to ask.

I'm aware it all sounds like a narcissistic wankfest. I don't understand how this particular mix brought up real communication rather than superficiality. But somehow it did, and now I feel like I've unexpectedly grown a whole new circle of friends.
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There's a $1.5bn plan to bring wind energy from Wyoming to California, via pumping air into a specially-built salt cave, and letting it out as needed.

It's a wonderful, baroquely over-the-top scheme. And, as BDLGblog says, it all feels like something out of a steampunk Aeneid:


The restless regions of the storms she sought,
Where, in a spacious cave of living stone,
The tyrant Aeolus, from his airy throne,
With pow'r imperial curbs the struggling winds,
And sounding tempests in dark prisons binds.
This way and that th' impatient captives tend,
And, pressing for release, the mountains rend.
High in his hall th' undaunted monarch stands,
And shakes his scepter, and their rage commands;
Which did he not, their unresisted sway
Would sweep the world before them in their way;
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Bonkers Victorian inventions, including:
  • A steel collar, to protect against garrotting
  • A mechanical leech, in case there's a shortage of real leeches
  • A corset with built-in inflatable boobs
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I love it when political manouvering becomes full-on Machiavellian. This (if true) is a beautifully contorted dodge from Kremlin strategist Vladislav Surkov, protecting his own position:

At one point he began to fear that success would be his undoing: there was speculation that he had presidential ambitions, a dangerous rumour, especially in political circles, and he immediately leaked the fact of his Chechen father, which he had previously kept secret, in order to rule himself out of higher office, or so it’s said. It was his way of saying ‘I know my place.’
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Oh, the ways I find to faff in my lunch-break. Today, translations of Mullet; apparently every country wants to blame them on foreigners and/or sportsmen. So Sweden (similar to Norway and Canada) has the lovely-sounding Hockeyfrilla ("Hockey hair"). The Danes ("Svenskerhår) blame it on the Swedes. Poland goes all the way with Czeski piłkarz ("Czech footballer") -- sports and abroad all in one.

All this from reading the blog of Amelia Andersdotter, who managed to win an election with the slogan "Vote for me because I know a lot about European cooperation, or because I have a mullet".

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The internet is poisoned. In my lunch break I started reading a blog on (er, mostly) Chinese politics, and within 5 minutes was confronted with slash involving David Miliband and a stegosaurus.

[no link, because it wasn't very good porn. I hope in the fullness of time somebody will do better, and occupy that particular niche in triumph]

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It's not so surprising that lobbyists are offering to demonize Occupy Wall Street for money. That's their job, after all: latch on to whatever is happening, and demand cash to support or hinder or manipulate it.

What's sweet is how fixated they are on finding some rich central backer pulling the strings. Maybe it's Soros? After all, these people wouldn't do anything unless they were being paid for it:


"It will be vital,” the memo says, “to understand who is funding it and what their backgrounds and motives are. If we can show that they have the same cynical motivation as a political opponent it will undermine their credibility in a profound way.”

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People, I lack music.

My office in Berlin was in a bar, above rehearsal rooms, with an electro-heavy playlist constantly on the stereo. There was enough music around that I didn't need to find my own. So, aside from the odd medicinal piece for a particular mood, I just soaked up whatever was in the air already.

My current office is more mundane: choose headphones, or choose silence. I can't just sink into the emotional rhythm of other people's music, so I need to create my own or let the entire day be identical.
Still, I'm not really asking for music recommendations. I really want to find music journalists. Or music blogers, music essayists, whatever. I may draw the line at twitter. Suggestions?
Ones I already like:

  • Simon Reynolds (despite his habit of concealing his articles across a dozen half-forgotten blogs)

  • Velvet Coalmine


  • K-punk,
    Splintering Bone Ashes, and the rest of the hauntology crowd. Though they're more philosophy than music, and in any case seem mostly to have given up the ghost.

  • Sasha Frere-Jones (though I wish he were a bit less tastefully even-handed)

  • um...there most be some more? Right?
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Reminder that today is my belated housewarming, and my housemate's birthday party. Location is 8A cheshire road, london n22 8JJ. Turn up any time from early evening -- with friends/partners/etc as you see fit.

Should you need it, my phone number is 07935 589442

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