Trying out Twitter

In October, I’m planning to focus my writing a bit more on Twitter. I will put all my writing energy into crafting the most amazing threads and Tweets you have ever seen.

As much as I love exchanging emails with my subscribers, Twitter is just much faster. This allows me to get feedback on ideas before sending them to your inbox, skipping the mediocre ones and doubling down where I stumble upon something interesting. I feel like I can get more out of Twitter, and I’m planning to experiment in November. I’ll report in another email after a month.

In the meantime, follow me to, well, follow this process.

Some resources about Twitter

Twitter Strategy Guide

If you follow one person except me on Twitter, it should be Visakan. Just by having him on my timeline, I transformed my experience on the platform from a frantic hellhole to a heartfelt chat with friends.

The key feature of (public) Twitter is that any player can interact with any other player. Any player can reply to any other player’s tweets, or retweet it, or quote-tweet it. This bypasses traditional limitations of both “real life” as well as older web mediums like “blogs”.

Twitter: A Text Reneissance

I can’t entirely agree with Venkatesh about WordPress being obsolete, but his piece about the nature of text points out why Twitter is likely not going away.

It implements a few key features of 1980s vintage hypertext visions — block-level addressability, transclusion (changes in referenced blocks being “transfer-included” wherever they are cited), and bidirectional linking — that utterly transform the writing experience at the finger-tips leve

The ultimate guide to writing online

David Perrell’s idea of the content triangle inspired me to double down on Twitter. He tests his ideas on Twitter and in conversation, much like comedians iterate on jokes in smaller clubs before going on National Tv (or Netflix).

Many writers wait until they publish a blog post to share an idea with somebody. I do the opposite. I share my ideas as much as I can and run them through numerous filters. I move from conversations, to tweets, to emails, to blog posts. Each medium provides a different layer of feedback. By the time I’ve published a blog post, I’ve run the ideas through 3-5 filters, and each time I receive feedback, I keep more of what resonates and less of what doesn’t.

Sherlock Holmes and the case of the Supply Chain.

The Solarpunk Art Contest I am helping to fund is closing its submissions on November 1st – one week from now. We are waiting for your art with a vision of a better future! You can find the submission procedure and all the details in this post.

The problems of today are in the seams of things

Have you heard about the supply chain problems? Hundreds of ships are waiting off the coast of California, which means those ships cannot be transporting goods from Asia, which means clogs, long wait times, and interruptions all around.

Since our economy is a Just-In-Time system, relying on the freight getting on time where it needs to be, the series of “hiccups” (Ship stuck in Suez Canal, Covid, Remote Work) overloaded the system. The problems are cascading, to the point where people are advised to get their Christmas shopping done in October because things will only get worse.

And, of course, nobody is to blame. Everyone is just doing their job, shrugging sadly and saying that there is nothing they can do. The stalemate of bureaucratic responsibilities causes the gridlock of shipping routes, but the solution is simple: Take charge. Flexport CEO Ryan Petersen rented a boat to inspect the situation in person:

It seems that everyone now agrees that the bottleneck is yard space at the container terminals. The terminals are simply overflowing with containers, which means they no longer have space to take in new containers either from ships or land. It’s a true traffic jam.

Right now if you have a chassis with no empty container on it, you can go pick up containers at any port terminal. However, if you have an empty container on that chassis, they’re not allowing you to return it except on highly restricted basis.

If you can’t get the empty off the chassis, you don’t have a chassis to go pick up the next container. And if nobody goes to pick up the next container, the port remains jammed.

The situation is getting worse because there are more ships coming, and more trucks rendered useless because they cannot unload the empty container:

This is a negative feedback loop that is rapidly cycling out of control that if it continues unabated will destroy the global economy

Ryan continues to recommend a list of interventions, but what struck me the most is that empty containers can only be stored two stories high because of zoning regulations. These are meant to protect the skyline of Long Beach, California. Ryan recommends temporarily allowing up to 6, tripling the capacity. The really impressive part is that Long Beach Mayor took Ryan’s advice!

I’m sure many experts and smart people were working on the problem. But no smart person can beat somebody willing to get their hands dirty and work across responsibilities to get the job done.

Sherlock Holmes is really Dr. House.

Sherlock Holmes is an inspiring character. Over the last ten years alone, we’ve seen three mainstream depictions (BBC Sherlock, Elementary, Sherlock Holmes with RDJ), with two Avengers playing their parts.

Sherlock was based not only on the previous characters by Edgar Allan Poe but also on the brilliant physician Joseph Bell, who trained Arthur Conan Doyle in his medical practice in Edinburgh.

Joseph was a pioneer in connecting the dots between his patients’ living conditions and their afflictions. He could deduce where they work and live by their clothes and quickly infer what could be troubling them.

Think of him as a nicer version of Dr. House. The similarities range from subtle to obvious, but it seems that Dr. House is closer to the “original” than Sherlock. Go figure.

Arthur Conan Doyle got his hands dirty, and his detective resonates so much as a result. Even though the Chevalier C. Auguste Dupin (Edgar Allan Poe’s character) was the first hero of the genre, Sherlock became the archetype because he’s based on experience, not imagination.

Later in his years, Arthur Conan Doyle started dabbling in spiritualism – trying to communicate with the dead was a popular pastime in the early 1900s. His growing belief in the supernatural began clashing with his character’s skepticism, and he slowly started losing enthusiasm for Sherlock.

A case against degrowth

The degrowth argument goes something like this:

“Infinite growth is unsustainable and we need to stop it if we want to save the environment and the human race”

It is most popular in great cities of the western world. In Poland, it is sometimes met with confusion, but in the developing countries, it’s just plain ridiculous. Noah Smith makes a great case against degrowth in his article:

Growth doesn’t just mean using more and more stuff; instead, it can mean finding more efficient ways to use the stuff we have.

Enforcing global degrowth would require freezing world income at about $17,000/year. That means that most people in the world would never even come close to current rich-world living standards

There’s some genuine appeal to the idea of an end to “consumerism,” but the pandemic offered a taste of how a sudden drop in rich-world consumption would actually affect the developing world. Covid-19 dramatically curtailed Western imports and tourism for a time. The consequences in poor countries were devastating. Hunger rose, and child mortality followed.

The Triumph Economy and other solutions

“Remember that you are mortal”

It was the sole goal of the Roman Auriga slaves to repeat those words for the commanders celebrated by the Roman Triumph so that they don’t start equating themselves with gods.

The triumph was the absolute pinnacle of achievement and the goal of any ambitious Roman Citizen. For a day, the whole Roman Empire celebrated your contributions to the empire’s power, wealth, and safety. You were the most important person for that day, and your descendants would look up to that moment when spending time in Lararium – the household shrine.

In Rome, money was only a tool to fund armies and conquests, not a goal in itself. Roman Empire was a Triumph-based economy, in which noblemen worked hard and gave everything to the empire.

I am really fond of the idea of money.

Specifically, rolling in it.

Money is infinitely composable – you can sell three goats and exchange it for half a cow, 2 weeks of work, or help with turning your grain into flour. This composability has enabled billions of us to somewhat work together on creating the modern world. As Yuval Noah Harari points out in Sapiens:

Money is the only trust system created by humans that can bridge almost any cultural gap, and that does not discriminate on the basis of religion, gender, race, age, or sexual orientation. Thanks to money, even people who don’t know each other and don’t trust each other can nevertheless cooperate effectively.

As much as I want to roll in a bathtub full of twenty-dollar bills, I have to admit that amassing money has become a bit of a problem. Wealth disparities are widely publicized, with Jeff Bezos earning 3 average American yearly salaries every minute, and [insert another wealth disparity example here].

But what is an ambitious and effective person to do? Amassing money, fame, and power is celebrated and presented as a worthy goal since high school (especially for boys). Young adults are full of energy, grit, and determination. There are hungry for greatness, but we offer them Netflix, collecting sneakers, and amassing a fortune instead.

What if we brought back the triumph economy?

A triumph for crushing your enemies, a triumph for curing cancer, a triumph for solving social media addiction, a triumph for emission-free energy sources, a triumph for solving supply chain problems… Money and power would again be only the tools meant to help humanity, not divide it.

What would you throw a triumph for?

Think like an engineer

The chat between Tim Ferriss and James Dyson is such a spectacular ride and validation for any engineer. You can feel the sheer joy of a breakthrough, of making somebody’s day a tiny bit better by technology.

Dyson’s big break was making a vacuum cleaner that does not clog from dust. It took 3 years and 5,127 prototypes because he was convinced people to spend a lot of time annoyed at their vacuums. He was right, and the only one who cared enough to solve the problem.

“Whenever I look at anything, I wonder how it works and then I wonder how it could work better. Could I make it better”

Now, James Dyson is releasing a new book, and creating a University, because he thinks engineers can solve the problems at hand:

Partly because I just wish there were more engineers, I just wish that more young people would find engineering fascinating interesting and worthwhile. And I think it’s particularly true now because everybody is talking about global warming and what he’s talking about using fewer resources, recycle ability and all these sort of things using less energy less water and its engineers that can make that happen

Couldn’t agree more – listen to the conversation between Dyson and Ferriss here.

Can you create your own country?

Continuing the topic of unorthodox solutions to the problems of today, Scott Alexander (of Slate Star Codex fame) wrote a prospectus on Prospera – an experimental city-state growing in Honduras.

The idea behind charter cities is: Shenzhen, Dubai, Hong Kong, Singapore, and the rest of the rich world aren’t rich because their citizens are morally superior to those of their poorer neighbors. They’re rich because they have better legal systems, less corruption, stronger rule of law, and more competent administrators.

Prospera and other experimental communities can try out unorthodox legal and governance systems to better face the modern challenges. The experimental country created in 1776 dominated all the previous powers, so maybe it can happen again?

Warsaw, Climate Care, and Pierogi

I love October.

Sure, the days are getting shorter, but that makes you appreciate every ray of the sun so much more. Every warm-ish (by that, I mean 13 degrees celsius) weekend feels like the last day of summer prompting you to use it well. Soft light and falling leaves add a romantic appeal to even the most mundane street that happened to have a plant. Or maybe my sentiment comes from the fact that I was born in October. Who am I to know.

Warsaw is great

As part of my Solarpunk research bender, I joined an online InterIntellect salon about planning livable, sustainable, and inspiring cities. (“Inter Intellect is like a remote Parisian cafe where you can meet smart people and chat about complex things. But bring-your-own-coffee.”)

We had a strong representation (including some urban planning professionals) of Londoners and San-Franciscans interested in transportation, food availability, supply chain management, cycling, density, and green space availability. We had a great chat, but I was surprised to leave the call blown away by how fantastic Warsaw scored on those dimensions. For example, on the topic of reducing food waste, we came to an interesting point:

Cantine-style bars would be more sustainable than cooking because they can optimize for seasonal or abundant produce, and benefit from the economies of scale. Restricted choice, but flexibility in portion sizes will result in less food waste than at restaurants, or even your own kitchen (RIP multiple celeries that we didn’t use up in time. We have failed you). Plus, by eating together, you get to create a sense of community.

People from around the world have reinvented Polish “Milk Bar” in front of my eyes. From Eater’s article accurately titled “Your First Stop in Poland Should Be a Milk Bar”:

Warsaw’s traditional, dairy-focused cafeterias dole out nostalgic charm and plump pierogies in equal measure (…) When Communist rule took root in Poland and inexpensive food for the masses became a must, these accessible eateries flourished. Though the Iron Curtain has long since fallen, the traditions and tastes of these often government-subsidized eateries remains

I never thought I’d live long enough to hear people from San Francisco and London dream of what I took for granted in my hometown. I know the grass is always greener, etc, etc, but Warsaw is becoming quite a hidden gem. Founder of Nomadlist compares it to Berlin. We have some way to go, but it’s genuinely cool here.

The Climate Care Industry

In The Climate Care Industry I propose a new term for all activity aimed at helping the climate:

An entire industry is sprouting around mitigating effects of the climate change, capturing CO2, and creating sustainable technology. We need a term that will help establish these efforts as their own domain to help them succeed. I propose we start referring to this industry as Climate Care, similar to Healthcare.

Current phrasing is either combative (“fighting the climate change”), confusing (“negative emissions” vs “climate-positive”) or easy to argue against. You can read more about the climate care industry here.

The need for maintenance

Stewart Brand is an inspiring citizen of the Internet. His The Clock of the Long Now remains one of my favorite books, blaming our short-term orientation for landing us in trouble repeatedly. Currently, Stewart is writing a book about maintenance, and the need for an honest conversation about it.

The first chapter is on Audible, and tells a story of the first race to sail solo non-stop around the world, and how maintenance played a crucial part in the success, failure, and death of its participants. Stories like these should be mandatory for everybody working with the software. Other disciplines have millennia of experience dealing with stuff breaking, but we just shrug it away. We are so proud of our cleverness and layers of abstractions, but we almost always over-prepare for the problems we’re familiar with and under prepare for anything else.

Old systems break in familiar ways. New systems break in unexpected ways

In my 15 years of software development, I learned the hard way, that maintenance has to be a part of the design, not an afterthought:

  • Always choose simplicity
  • Don’t try to impress your engineer friends
  • Plan your maintenance if you want your stuff to work.

What is complicated will always lead to problems

Would you like some adulthood with that order?

We have built a culture of permanent adolescence, with nobody really steering the ship. Inability to perform basic human maintenance is sometimes celebrated (“LOL, adulting is hard”).

My wife will be hosting an Inter Intellect salon (that Parisian cafe with your own coffee), where you can meet interesting folk debating rites of passage, visions of adulthood learned from our parents or school, and the secrets of successful adults.

The usual badges of adulthood are either out of reach or completely lost their appeal. We don’t know what else could be put in their place. Without a shared narrative that explains what is even the point of growing up, or experienced elders who could guide the candidates through this process, a lot of us don’t feel like proper adults even in our 30s.

Go get your ticket here.

No hacks in getting featured on Hacker News

Twenty-six-year-old me would be very proud. Four of my essays have trended on the first page of Hacker News, bringing thousands of like-minded technologists to the site you’re currently reading. In this post, I’m going to share a few tips. And I am kinda proud, too.

What is Hacker News?

What is the website you open when you’re in the mood to read something? New York Times? Reddit? Facebook? For me, and millions of other technologists, it’s Hacker News. It is an aggregator of links gathering content from around the web, with a voting system, created by Y Combinator – a startup accelerator.

Open-plan offices offer few pleasures; one of them is snooping on other people’s browsing habits. When, years ago, I began working for tech companies in San Francisco, I noticed that my co-workers were always scrolling through a beige, text-only Web site that resembled a nineteen-nineties Internet forum. They were reading Hacker News—a link aggregator and message board that is something of a Silicon Valley institution. Technologists in Silicon Valley assume familiarity with Hacker News, just as New Yorkers do with the New York Post and the New York Times

This New Yorker article is not exaggerating. While working in a Polish subcontractor to the mighty western technology companies, it was my (and my friends’) morning ritual to begin every day with a copy and browsing of Hacker News. It was there, and then that my dream to work in a Silicon Valley startup, like the ones I read about, began.

When I circled back, we treated this site a little too seriously. We probably made technical decisions based on pieces of technology that happened to be popular and deemed everything trending worthy of our attention. Our views on social issues were quite in sync with the site. The other users are builders, techno-optimists, fans of obscure historical trivia, socialists, libertarians, and billionaires. For better or worse, my people. And some of them have read my stuff.

How did you launch on top of HN?

Go to your people

As I pointed out before, I spent significant time browsing the articles on the site. Is it possible that I somehow internalized the algorithm to think like the hive mind of Hacker News?

For an individualist, this is a scary thought. But it’s reassuring to feel like a part of something. The lesson is boring, and not very novel – promote your writing in the community you are already a part of.

When I heard this lesson in the past, I used to think that’s because of the trust you radiate as an established member. But now I realize that promoting in your existing online communities works because you deem them interesting and they influence your writing. It’s a self-reinforcing loop.

Where do you spend your online time?

The hardest problem in computer science is naming things

Hacker News has a very minimalist design. You don’t judge the book by its cover, you judge it’s by the title and others’ upvotes.

Notice the third one?

While wrapping up my essays, I find myself thinking “Hey, this is an interesting twist. How can I adjust the title to tease that promise?
And later, after adjusting the title I make sure the rest of the article follows that promise – it usually makes for a much more interesting angle. That’s why in the Write of Passage community, we call that a shiny dime.

Hacker News has a voting system, and clickbait is definitely not the way to the top. When I now reflect on the titles that have trended, they share a few common characteristics:

  • Something that makes you “huh, that is interesting, haven’t thought of that”
  • Has to have something with tech
  • Has to have a promise of teaching something new
  • My combinations have this vibe of “old + new”:

Here are my successful submissions. Each one brought about 4000 – 6000 visitors during the first day:


The content triangle

That last essay is an expanded version of my response to Paul Graham’s Tweet. It got a bit of attention, so I transformed it into an essay.

Only after the essay has taken off on HN, I realized that Paul Graham’s followers ARE HN readers, since he built the site. In Write of Passage, we call it the content triangle – you move the idea onto a “higher level” (in this case, an essay) only if it succeeded in conversation, on Twitter, or in your DMs.

There really is no way to cheat the system, but there is an extremely pleasant obvious route: Write content YOU would like to read and share it with people like yourself.

Your Hacker News visitors

You also need to know a few things about the browsing habits of the HN crowd.

We are reluctant to convert

We really hate spam, so converting these spikes of traffic into an email list requires a really good pitch.

We are blocking Google Analytics

This article suggests that 58% of Tech-Savvy HN users block Google Analytics. My own findings suggest a different figure, but there is a significant difference between my GA stats and WordPress.com stats:

3159 visitors according to WordPress.com

2472 visitors according to Google Analytics:

Other people’s experiences

Good luck!

The Climate Care Industry

An entire industry is sprouting around mitigating the effects of climate change, capturing CO2, and creating sustainable technology. We need a term that will help establish these efforts as their own domain to help them succeed. I propose we start referring to this industry as Climate Care, similar to Healthcare.

Why do we need a new term?

There is little argument about the importance of the Healthcare industry. It’s a natural process that our bodies break down. They need maintenance and mending to work according to our needs, wants, and hopes.

The Planet’s Climate needs similar care if humanity is to continue thriving on its surface. Earth was, is, and will be fine without our intervention, but the conditions suitable to our survival need upkeep and maintenance, regardless of whoever is to blame.

Current language referring to climate-related efforts is combative, divisive, and unwieldy. Phrases like “battling the effects of the climate change”, “averting the climate crisis”, “dealing with climate emergency” are wordy, negative (both in grammar and valence), and all are easy to argue against with a simple “calm down”.

The process of creating a sustainable future needs itself to be sustainable. We are just starting, and already we have an entire generation exhausted by “Apocalypse Fatigue” and “DoomScrolling” (Notice how the negative terms are so catchy?). 

We need tales to inspire, not tales to condemn.

What is The Climate Care Industry?

We also have a generation of people willing to devote their careers to mitigating the problem. As The Guardian reported, Gen Z members are flocking to climate-related careers. Chris Sacca (@sacca) has created Lower Carbon Capital, a venture capital firm devoted solely to funding startups in the Climate Care Industry. The payments giant Stripe has created Stripe Climate, an arm targeting and funding early technologies of negative emissions.

Efforts in The Climate Care Industry can take many forms:

  • Working on a new technology of capturing CO2
  • Writing about new developments of sustainable technology
  • Inspiring people through art and writing to hope for a better future
  • Funding companies helping the climate
  • Passing legislation regulating our use of resources
  • Anything else that helps regulate the climate

Like Healthcare, Manufacturing, Finance, etc. – Climate Care deserves its own industry phrased in peaceful terms. It will help people build careers and plan their futures of helping our planet and ourselves.

Ambient Allure and Spectacular Sights

The Piszek family has just returned from a 1.5 month RV trip through Europe. The Grand Tour of Europe was a customary coming-of-age ritual for 17th and 18th-century noblemen, and naturally, we concluded that our 6-month baby has to start early.

Consumption shrinks or expands in proportion to available square footage

After getting home, we were ecstatic to finally get our hands on our favorite takeout after a month of, well, Italian Pizza. The Baby got new toys from grandma, we opened some Amazon packages, and one thing led to another and within 2 days we were under a pile of stuff.

Somehow in the RV we managed with the basics and we lacked nothing, but as Made In Cosmos theorem stipulates:

“Consumption shrinks or expands in proportion to available square footage”

Life on the road was simpler and tidier. Life in our apartment is more comfortable and convenient. It is really nice to be able to oscillate between the two. This dynamic equilibrium helps to appreciate the benefits of another lifestyle.

Ambient Allure and Spectacular Sights

We did more in Italy than eat pizza. We also ate pasta and pesto. And we did even more than that! We were able to travel at our own pace, visiting small towns without a hurry. I tried to capture the surrounding elegance of this old Italian architecture, but none of the shots really captured the essence.

It’s like everything was built to create a vibe of ambient beauty, not to feed my Instagram.

My wife told me, that the Zen Gardens have the same quality – they are designed as an environment for you to be in, not sit outside with your camera.

Other lessons from life on the road

There are other lessons from our trip:

  • 3G/LTE performance is just amazing and dealing with free WiFi is tedious and unreliable. Just buy a local SIM Card instead of waiting for Starlink to save you,
  • Our Dog will always steal food and the best chair,
  • When you see a lake, you have to swim in it. This is my new personal rule and it has never failed to bring me joy.

I published a few things

Alexander von Humboldt: the first Solarpunk

In Alexander von Humboldt: the first Solarpunk, I curated some of Humboldt’s ideas about Nature, and Humanity’s place in it.

Alexander von Humboldt served as a role model for Goethe’s Faust and helped Thomas Jefferson build the agricultural power of the United States. He inspired Charles Darwin to hop on the beagle to follow in his steps, Thoreau to seek close connection to nature at the Walden Pond, and Muir to create the national park system.

The essay got a discussion going on Hacker News.

Computer Science and Psychology? How does that work?

In Computer Science and Psychology? How does that work? I recount the story of my dual degree, and how these disciplines are more aligned than it may seem. But I also call for a more transdisciplinary approach to solving problems:

Our most pressing problems started small but have been allowed to grow unhindered due to their transdisciplinary nature. They didn’t land in the purview of any single discipline, so we all ignored them as long as possible. The challenges of the future are in the seams of things.

Crypto is not an alternative to Capitalism

Crypto and DAOs are sometimes hailed as the alternative to the current market systems. I don’t think that is the case.


Weird thing this week: What’s with all the skulls?

The photo in this email is taken in Hallstatt, Austria. The town is apparently famous in Asia for being “the most Instagrammable place in the world” (apparently not one of the “Ambient Allure” ones), and China has a replica of the whole city. The mayor of the Town has asked tourists to just stay away, but the weirdest thing about this place is the crypt with painted human skulls.

Crypto is not an alternative to Capitalism

Blockchain is a technology, but for many, it’s also a promise of escaping the current financial system rigged by the ruling class and generational wealth. Cryptocurrencies can replace dreaded banks, and DAOs can supplant corporations. Once they do, everything will be good and fair.

On a fundamental level, you can think of DAOs as internet-native constitutions. Like regular constitutions, DAOs embed a fundamental set of rules and principles that establish an organization and determine its governance structure. But unlike regular constitutions, DAOs can execute some activities fully autonomously. For example, a DAO with its own internal capital can automatically buy and sell cryptocurrencies based on specific programmatic conditions.

https://1729.com/daos

One example of a fully decentralized institution is Uniswap:

Uniswap doesn’t actually exist in any technological (servers, accounts, log-ins, etc.) or legal (LLC, S-corp) form that we’re used to.* Rather, Uniswap is a decentralized protocol, and the governing body of that protocol is a decentralized autonomous organization (DAO) on the Ethereum blockchain

DAOs are appealing to the anarchists out there, looking for their perfect slice of non-capitalist utopia. But DAOs are built on top of the Ethereum network to execute smart contracts making it work. The more Ethereum you have, the more influence you can have over the organizations. They are literally running on money.

There are solutions to that inequality – for example, you can limit the number of voting rights a person can have or regulate smart contracts in a way to provide equity according to a more fair set of rules.

Proof of Stake

One valid criticism of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies is the significant environmental impact. New York Times explains that Bitcoin uses as much electricity as Finland or Washington State.

That is because the proof-of-work system is basically exchanging electricity to “mine” new Bitcoin or Ethereum. The brilliant minds behind Ethereum want to change that: Instead of working and burning electricity, they want you to just put up your existing Ethereum to mine a new one without using any energy.

In a proof-of-stake model, owners put up their tokens as collateral. In return, they get authority over the token in proportion to the amount they stake. Generally, these token stakers get additional ownership in the token over time via network fees, newly minted tokens or other such reward mechanisms.

US News

Proof of stake solves the problem of the environmental impact because it is using the more efficient system: You get more power according to how many resources you have.

That is the essence of Capitalism.

I don’t consider it a bad thing. Capitalism is very effective at solving problems of people who have capital and inefficiencies of alternatives are wildly documented. I grew up in communist Poland and still remember meat shortages.

Blockchain technology promised to reinvent everything from the first principles and it arrived at a conclusion that capitalism is the most efficient way to allocate resources. Anyone from communist Poland could tell you that.

Alexander von Humboldt: the first Solarpunk

Alexander von Humboldt served as a role model for Goethe’s Faust and helped Thomas Jefferson build the agricultural power of the United States. He inspired Charles Darwin to hop on the beagle to follow in his steps, Thoreau to seek close connection to nature at the Walden Pond, and Muir to create the national park system.

He has sown the seeds for the environmental movement of today, but he was not enthusiastic about the prospects:

“The human species could turn even those distant stars ‘barren’ and leave them ‘ravaged’”, Humboldt wrote as early as 1801, just as they were already doing with earth.

Andrea Wulf, the Invention of Nature

Humboldt was captivated by lush nature but loved humanity and the new technological developments. He believed that if we understand Nature and the laws governing her, we can create a sustainable future. He was the first Solarpunk and here are his ideas:

#1: Everything is Connected

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”

John Muir wrote, summarizing Alexander von Humboldt’s ideas.

The idea of interconnectedness is central to Alexander von Humboldt’s intellectual pursuits. His relentless curiosity drove him to explore the messy reality of nature. Before Humboldt’s time, the role of the scientist was like one of the librarian – classify, label, and shelve facts. The most recent breakthrough of the natural sciences was the binomial classification – a system of grouping species originating from counting how many teeth or hooves they may have. Humboldt quite prophetically was opposed to such one-dimensional treatment of Nature and relegating science to forever slicing up the world into smaller pieces so they can neatly fit on a bookshelf.

Probably his most influential concept was the Naturgemalde: A vision, painting, and a scene illustrating how different parts of the ecosystem influence each other.

Humboldt’s Naturgemalde: the cross-section of Chimborazo volcano with the entire ecosystem explained.

Naturgemalde was not only a new way to showcase facts and figures like the altitude, vegetation, and snow cover of the Chimborazo volcano but the first piece of art illustrating the influence of these facts over each other. It was during the assembly of Naturgemalde that Humboldt first introduced the idea of vegetation zones – the altitude and temperature range suitable for certain species of plants, creating similar ecosystems in similar places around the globe. 

The evocative nature of the painting has inspired a generation of artists to seek unity and deepen our understanding of Nature instead of resigning ourselves to classify it.

#2: What speaks to the soul escapes our measurements

“What speaks to the soul escapes our measurements.”

Alexander von Humboldt, from the Invention of Nature

Humboldt was a scientist through and through. But as Leonardo Da Vinci before him and Richard Feynman two centuries later, he found beauty in discovering the truth about the world. Nature was a value in itself for Humboldt, not just a means to an end or something to conquer.

It is that emotional bond with the world that let him create the Naturgemalde.

“Nature every where speaks to man in a voice familiar to his soul.”

Alexander von Humboldt, from the Invention of Nature

Poets and authors like Coleridge, Goethe, Thoreau, and Verne were deeply moved by Humboldt’s descriptions of the natural world and paid him homages in their own art. Goethe based Doctor Faust on his dear friend Humboldt, and Julius Verne made sure that Nautilus contained “the complete works of Humboldt”, as Captain Nemo was a great fan.

#3 Humanity has to work WITH nature.

During his travels, Humboldt saw the ruthlessness with which humans treated nature.

Humboldt wrote about the destruction of forests and of humankind’s long-term changes to the environment. When he listed the three ways in which the human species was affecting the climate, he named deforestation, ruthless irrigation, and, perhaps most prophetically, the ‘great masses of steam and gas’ produced in the industrial centres.

The Invention of Nature

Humboldt understood the connections between different parts of the ecosystem and it was clear that short-sighted exploitation of nature will not only destroy habitats but also have dire consequences for humanity. He wasn’t opposed to technology (in fact, he was very excited by the advancements of the 19th century), but he advocated for a nuanced approach towards nature rather than plantations of cash crops.

Solarpunk

252 years after the birth of Alexander von Humboldt birth, the world hasn’t changed much. His prophetic warnings about Humanity’s devastating impact on the natural world have unfortunately came to pass, and we are still trying to find our way out of this mess. I believe that way is the Solarpunk – a trend focusing on inspiring a sustainable future through art, and finding a way for modern technology to coexist with lush nature.

Solarpunks believe that this way is through Art and Technology. Humboldt believed in the power of art to capture and express more than formulas ever could and to inspire others to appreciate the complexity of Nature. Solarpunks believe that this Art can also inspire technologists to create sustainable solutions and policymakers to implement them. Humboldt believed that technology not only can, but has to coexist with Nature:

Humboldt, however, warned that humankind needed to understand how the forces of nature worked, how those different threads were all connected. Humans could not just change the natural world at their will and to their advantage. ‘Man can only act upon nature, and appropriate her forces to his use,’ Humboldt would later write, ‘by comprehending her laws.’

Andrea Wulf, the Invention of Nature

Solarpunks believe that technology coexisting with nature is the only way out of our climate predicament. Alexander von Humboldt was the first member of the Solarpunk movement.

One more thing: I am helping to fund a Solarpunk Art Contest and we are waiting for your Naturgemalde.

Solarpunk Art Contest

Last week, I transferred $1000 worth of magical Internet money (Ethereum) to an Internet stranger (@Yishan), so he can award it to artists inspiring a sustainable future (aka Solarpunk Art contest). How was your week?

Why Solarpunk?

Artist: Imperial Boy

I have written about Solarpunk in a previous issue of this newsletter – it’s a trend focusing on inspiring a sustainable future through art, and finding a way for modern technology to coexist with lush nature.

Solarpunk focuses on tales to inspire, not tales to condemn. Unlike the current debate about climate, it’s not anti-anything. It’s not shaming you for using your car, nor scaring masses with the warnings of the terrible outcomes of our habits. This is not the way out of this mess.

Chill with the dystopias

The original points of Cyberpunk, Mad Max, Black Mirror, and other dystopian stories were to warn us about the slippery slopes, so we can avoid dire consequences. It all backfired, inspiring creators and technologists to make that vision a reality because the aesthetics accompanying the message were compelling.

Please tell me if you know the original source.

Technologists live to create things that they fell in love with as children. Star Trek should be credited for the invention of the iPhone more than Steve Jobs because it sent millions of engineers onto the paths that resulted in technology combined in the slick monolith you hold in your hand today.

Art inspires, and technology follows.

I want the future to be hopeful

The lovely Solarpunk-inspired Chobani commercial

I believe the future is good and humanity’s best days are yet ahead of us. Technology has the potential to not only help the climate (which it did harm before), but continue providing improvements to longevity, health, and education.

We need to point technologists towards respecting nature, and all species on planet earth, creating sustainable habitats, walkable cities, and clean energy sources. We need artists to lead us, so technologists can follow. So lead us somewhere nice.

This is where you come in.

The Solarpunk contest I helped fund is running until November 1st, 2021. The format can be any visual medium (digital, ink, paint, 3D, animated, etc). It should be original art, not published elsewhere. Winners will be chosen by the CEO of Terraformation (@Yishan).

  1. First Place: $2,740 + $100 reprint purchase offer to publish the winning entry as cover art on one of the six first year issues of Solarpunk Magazine$1,000 payable in SOL (Ryan will help you claim).
  2. Second Place: $2,140
  3. Third Place: $1,740
  4. 7 other winners: $1,540

Submission procedure and more details are in this post.

Show us a nice future so we can build it. My future grandchildren are counting on you.

In other news, to match the growing nature-inspired focus of this newsletter and the blog, I redesigned piszek.com to match. Tell me what you think!