Ross Ulbricht's private journals released: Self-doubt, first steps, tribulations

Here's an excerpt of what Ross Ulbricht wrote years ago about starting Silk Road from Ars Technica:

I was calling it Underground Brokers, but eventually settled on Silk Road. The idea was to create a website where people could buy anything anonymously, with no trail whatsoever that could lead back to them. I had been studying the technology for a while, but needed a business model and strategy. I finally decided that I would produce mushrooms so that I could list them on the site for cheap to get people interested. I worked my ass off setting up a lab in a cabin out near Bastrop off the grid. In hindsight, this was a terrible idea and I would never repeat it, but I did it and produced several kilos of high quality shrooms. On the website side, I was struggling to figure out on my own how to set it up. Driving out to Bastrop, working on Good Wagon, and trying to keep up my relationship with Julia was taking all of my time. By the end of the year, I still didn’t have a site up, let alone a server.

I went through a lot over the year in my personal relationships as well. I had mostly shut myself off from people because I felt ashamed of where my life was. I had left my promising career as a scientist to be an investment adviser and entrepreneur and came up empty handed. More and more my emotions and thoughts were ruling my life and my word was losing power. At some point I finally broke down and realized my love for people again, and started reaching out. Throughout the year I slowly re-cultivated my relationship with my word and started honoring it again.

My relationship with Julia was pretty rocky throughout the year. We even broke up for about a month and half toward the end. I couldn’t even tell you now why it was a struggle, or why we broke up. On my side, I wasn’t communicating well at all. I would let little things build up until I got mad. We eventually got back together and even moved in together, and it has been amazingly good since.

In 2011, I am creating a year of prosperity and power beyond what I have ever experienced before. Silk Road is going to become a phenomenon and at least one person will tell me about it, unknowing that I was its creator. 

The full article is fascinating and worth the read.

The place between grey hat and white hat SEO: being wrong on purpose

There's three types of SEO. White Hat is playing within Google's rules. Black Hat is playing outside of them (think comment bots that drop links). Grey Hat is the space inbetween. "The Gawker" strategy lies somewhere between White Hat and Grey Hat.

The linkbuilding strategy called "the Gawker," is where you hire someone known for choosing unpopular positions and trolling/being unable to take criticism. That person creates a shitstorm by saying something incredibly stupid and stubbornly sticking to it. This prompts everyone to talk about how irrational they are and generates a lot of controversy. You get a lot of links to your site during the controversy. Later, you fire this person to save face.

One of the biggest rules of posting anything on the tubes is "Don't be wrong on the Internet" because everyone HAS to correct you, this strategy relies on using that that rule to your advantage. Post something absurdly dumb in a random reddit comment page, and a dozen people will feel the need to correct you, and all you are is an anonymous person on the internet. When a media entity - especially a generally respected one - posts something absurd, other media entities feel the obligation to correct them. Since their readers are probably unaware of the other media entity's wrong-headed entry, the other media company links to it. As mentioned earlier, a link from a domain that has lots of links is worth many, many times more than a link from a less endowed website.

Left unchecked, this will continue to grow as a serious problem in modern media. 

Elon Musk AMA wisdom — On knowledge and learning

Elon Musk on knowledge and learning via Reddit AMA

I think most people can learn a lot more than they think they can. They sell themselves short without trying.

One bit of advice: it is important to view knowledge as sort of a semantic tree -- make sure you understand the fundamental principles, ie the trunk and big branches, before you get into the leaves/details or there is nothing for them to hang on to.

The end of gangs — policing, culture, or leaded gasoline?

Pacific Standard magazine penned a long form piece on the success of better policing against gangs in Los Angeles. Cops started using statistics (CompStat), community policing, bans on congregating in public (no street slinging) and federal RICO statutes to take down entire neighborhood gangs, while gentrification changed the demographics of the neighborhoods. 

But others are speculating it is the end of the use of leaded gas in automobiles that directly caused a plunge in crime:

It might also be culture and the Internet. A redditor writes:

Gangs are cultural social groups. They thrive on regional and ethnic pockets of culture. All culture has become globalized and somewhat diffused. Especially "urban" culture. Regional urban culture in America used to be really clearly pronounced from state to state. For example, young people in poor neighborhoods in Compton didn't dress like kids in Miami hoods. Rappers in NY didn't sound like rappers in the Bay Area. Nowadays the internet has connected the world, and so young people are no longer isolated into regional cultures. Poor kids in California wear the same fashions as kids in Kansas city now. The new generation of rappers are almost impossible to identify by state or region. A$AP Rocky and Tyler the Creator and Drake have no regional style whatsoever, because they grew up with no regional cultural limitations. They are global.

This is a big part of what's happened to gangs, IMO. The youth have no more regional pockets of culture for gangs to live and breath.

In any case, the streets are safer, and that's something for which Los Angeles can be thankful.

Hat tip HN

The Detail - an indie adventure game worth playing

There's this tiny game studio that released a very playable point-and-click adventure game, and I played through it just now. Put simply, the game is HBO's The Wire in old school PC adventure game format. It's about than an hour of story and action but a very enjoyable one with real suspense. They've stripped down the mechanics of a typical point-and-click to just that which will progress the plot, which makes the whole mechanism quite streamlined and cuts back on the hunt-and-click aspect of these games. They've managed to really generate palpable tension in this storyline. You're never sure if your character will make it through, and your actions feel like they have weight. 

The game was created by a small team in Finland, and it looks like they were recently greenlit on Steam. They've released episode 1 of 5, and as a fan of these kinds of games I do hope this studio keeps going and brings the whole series to fruition. This thing is compelling, so if you've got a PC, check it out on Steam

I love seeing people create something new, and this is one game that deserves to have a bigger audience.

Generational shift: Millennials buy smartphones, not cars

Cars, unending tract homes, and cul-de-sacs are all ways of the past that are fading out. People want to live in more urban centers with rich public transit options, like the above futuristic vision of Urban Alloy Towers in would-be Queens, NY. 

The Atlantic Monthly expanded on this recently in The Cheapest Generation:

Smartphones compete against cars for young people’s big-ticket dollars, since the cost of a good phone and data plan can exceed $1,000 a year. But they also provide some of the same psychic benefits—opening new vistas and carrying us far from the physical space in which we reside. “You no longer need to feel connected to your friends with a car when you have this technology that’s so ubiquitous, it transcends time and space,” Connelly said.

In other words, mobile technology has empowered more than just car-sharing. It has empowered friendships that can be maintained from a distance. The upshot could be a continuing shift from automobiles to mobile technology, and a big reduction in spending.


The old cul-de-sacs of Revolutionary Road and Desperate Housewives have fallen out of favor with Generation Y. Rising instead are both city centers and what some developers call “urban light”—denser suburbs that revolve around a walkable town center. “People are very eager to create a life that blends the best features of the American suburb—schools still being the primary, although not the only, draw—and urbanity,” says Adam Ducker, a managing director at the real-estate consultancy RCLCO.

And why buy a car and have it sit for 23 hours a day when you can get a car via Zipcar or Uber on demand via smartphone? 

This makes me hopeful for the future of cities as the younger generations surge into voters and key positions of power in government. 

The Internet isn't here to ruin us: Refutation of technophobes in this month's Fast Co

It was 1925, and the car was destroying America's youth. "The general effect of the automobile," wrote Princeton University Dean Howard McClenahan, "was to make the present generation look lightly at the moral code, and to decrease the value of the home." With a car, the youngsters could drive anywhere on Sunday. McClenahan didn't think they'd drive to church. And if they didn't, he argued, they'd become devilish and depraved.

This did not come to pass. Nor did phonographs create a "marked deterioration in American music," as composer John Philip Sousa feared in 1906. Nor did the telephone "break up home life and the old practice of visiting friends," as the Knights of Columbus warned in 1926. Nor did writing--a growing activity in the ancient world--"create forgetfulness in the learners' souls, because they will not use their memories," as Plato himself hypothesized. Some 2,400 years later, the Atlantic floated the same thesis about search engines. Its headline: "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" Proclamations like these should remind us that every technological revolution will spawn naysayers, who for the most part should be ignored.

Cars. Phonographs. Telephones. Writing. Enabling technologies are scary. They change our brains. I agree with this hopeful article — we are pretty happy about having cars, being able to talk to people on the phone, and, well, being able to read and write. So let's make the Internet continue to be a thing for which future generations will be thankful.