On the power of writing

I’ve been reading Susan Sontag’s Notes on “Camp” these past few weeks. I’ve really enjoyed slowly working my way through it, and taking down notes and interesting quotes from it. These are safely tucked away for now, but there was something interesting that happened, which I’d like to note –

Sontag starts off with –

Many things in the world have not been named; and many things, even if they have been named, have never been described. […]

A sensibility (as distinct from an idea) is one of the hardest things to talk about

Susan Sontag, Notes on “Camp”

When I started reading this essay, I had little idea of what Camp is. Since then, I’ve visited New York, been to the Met, and seen all the things that inspired these thoughts, and things around them.

But to me, writing is the greatest tool humans have ever conceived, and the mark of a great writer is that by the time they’re done telling you about their ideas, you believe them and adopt them.

This is my last note on the essay, made today –

I love this idea. So much has been written about our human history, but the color gets lost almost instantly. The sensibility which informs the era being written about is the most difficult thing to capture, and thus the most valuable thing.

Nitin Khanna

As soon as I wrote it down, I realized that I was echoing an idea I had read three weeks ago from these very pages. That I have wholly adopted the idea Sontag presented, and that it is a part of my thinking is a testament to how powerful a tool writing is.

A year with Facebook

A year ago, I decided to change my relationship with Facebook. I decided to be more active on the network, but not in the way Facebook would want me to be – commenting, liking, browsing, and clicking more.

I wanted to use Facebook to put out my thoughts more. So I actively started blogging more and putting it all on Facebook, a practice I had stopped for a while because I wasn’t getting anything out of it. I did another thing – something I’ve often been told off for, but I just wanted to experiment with – I connected my twitter account with Facebook. The benefit? All my tweets (and quote tweets, which is a little silly) started getting posted to Facebook. This meant that each passing, silly thought, which we often toss into the void, became instantly visible to my real life friends.

In a way, I did do all the things that would be considered an increase in Facebook activity – I have spent the past year listening to a podcast called Philosophize This! The podcast has an accompanying community on Facebook. Though I didn’t interact with the community much, I did become a part of it. I also found a community relating to an app I use a lot – Day One. The community also chugs along, though I’ve not derived as much value from it as I would like.

I also started using Facebook a lot more. There was a time when I would gleefully count the stupid notification counter on the Facebook website approach 99. I call it stupid not because I have prejudice against it. I like notifications. They’re an excellent approach to garnering attention. But somewhere along the way, Facebook decided that I am not a worthy enough user of their service and they downgraded my experience. They made the counter stupid by pushing every little activity to it. Things which belong in the newsfeed – someone posted something, someone liked someone else’s post, someone had a birthday – were suddenly in my notifications. But at the beginning of the year, I decided to be more proactive, hoping that the algorithm would notice this and rid me of the stupid notifications and only give me the smart ones. I’ll let you know that the algorithm is not smart. It never did recognize my contribution and that portion of the experiment quickly bombed. Now I don’t care what the notification counter says. Whenever it irks me, I click it to reset it and ignore the notifications. (They’ve added even more notifications now – friend suggestions, community posts; heck they’ve even added Facebook notifications to the Instagram app, because why ruin just one social network when you can ruin two?)

I even went ahead and actively started using Instagram. I thought, maybe one Facebook property will feed into the algorithm of the other? See above regarding algorithm smartness.

But the last thing, that of posting more, I did religiously. After my initial December 20th, 2017 post, I’ve posted 25 public posts on my blog, a marked increase over the 13 posts I made in 2017. The plan was that all of the posts would be posted to Facebook and the ensuing conversations, controversy, and opinion would all happen in Facebook. After all, only if I contribute more to the platform, will I reap the rewards of the happiness that are supposed to come from it.

I also definitely did not delete any (well, most) of the tweets that got pushed from twitter to Facebook. I don’t like posting about political stuff openly. It’s like religion, everyone has one, and it’s best kept personal. But some tweets do get out once in a while. I believe I deleted those from Facebook. About 70 tweets made it to Facebook before disaster struck.

In the words of Hillary Clinton,

What Happened?

Well, the year started off nicely. Posting to Facebook is certainly a good way to garner attention. Friends who often forget that I have a blog were reading my posts and sometimes even clicking through to come to my actual website to check it out. The fact that Facebook discards in-text HTML, thus removing all URL references from a post both helps and hinders. It removes all context, but it also means that astute readers realized they had to click through.

I don’t have a lot of unknowns on my Facebook account. I do have a bunch of acquaintances, and people I haven’t met in years. I’m not a particularly social person irl. But everyone on there is someone I know or knew once. So it’s not like I was able to appeal to the masses and drive ‘traffic’ to my blogs. What I did achieve is a meager amount of conversation – a few likes and comments per post.

This extended to both types of posts. Folks who had never heard me express things about the random topics I post about on twitter and other microblogs, suddenly had access to my thoughts. Some reacted like idiots, some had positive or negative comments, and some just hit like and moved on.

All this stopped on August 1st. The declaration came in the form of a blog post by Facebook on their developer portal on April 24th. It was hidden between a bunch of other deprecated APIs, which I’m sure broke a lot of other things for other people. At the time, a huge noise rose, specially in the WordPress world about this. A lot of blogs depended on this API to post to Facebook using either the Jetpack plugin or the dlvr.it service (or other, similar services). Matt Mullenweg commented on the change, hoping that Facebook will reverse their decision and re-embrace the open web, to which this decision shuts the doors. But that’s not Facebook’s way. I reckon they heard him once in 2017, so they’re done listening to him for a decade.

I didn’t bother with finding workarounds to this problem. Smarter and more dedicated people than me would have found ways if there were any. Regardless, I wrote a blogpost on August 2nd and manually posted it to my Facebook profile on August 11th. This was my last cross-post from twitter or my blog to Facebook. It did not get any likes or comments.

According to some people, removing this API is important in helping fight the corruption that was revealed in the Cambridge Analytica scandal. But from what I can see, removing the ability for content to come in through legitimate sources is certainly not the way to go if you want to increase trust in your system. This was just a random move by Facebook, which is running around in headless chicken mode right now. It would be better if it were actually headless right now though, because the current head is part of the pattern of problems that Facebook manifests in this world.

Regardless, my year-long experiment ended mid-year.

The outcome of this experiment was this – I fell in love with the written word again. I also fell in love with my blog again. Though I now have newfound respect for a few things – first of all, I’m glad that my twitter is no longer connected to Facebook. The stream of consciousness that goes into twitter is not at all suited to Facebook, even though it should be, and for a majority of the world this has been a learning curve. Rants and raves belong to the place where outrage is common. You put it on Facebook and you alienate friends and get fired from jobs. While none of that happened to me, the effect was clear – people who I’ve never bothered to talk to my every day thoughts about were suddenly talking to me about them whenever I met them. This was… awkward. So I’m glad it’s no longer happening.

The second thing I’m glad of is discovering a rather important aspect of WordPress – private blog posts. While I’d like to talk about this more in another post, the overview is this – when you see 24 published posts for the year of 2018, I see 58. My process used to be that I would write a post and just leave it in drafts if it didn’t feel ‘complete’. This was wholly unsatisfying. Now, I privately publish my posts, giving them a timestamp that helps me date my thoughts. I also believe deeply in the concept of the blog as an Outboard brain as once proposed by Cory Doctorow. Though not as vibrant and well published as his blog, Boing Boing, my blog is my space, and having things published and showing up on the home page of my site when I’m logged in means I get to think about those things more.

What happened on the Facebook end of things? I noticed that the folks who interacted most with my posts were the same over and over – friends in the US who share my time zone, and some in India who I frequently interact with on Facebook. But what happened when the posts stopped? Nothing.

No one noticed. No one pinged me and asked me what was wrong with my blog and my tweets. Part of this is just the way the internet operates. Even with the extensive RSS setup I have, where I follow a lot of amazing blogs, if one slows down, I don’t have an easy way to figure it out. Time spent on the internet gets filled up by whatever is available.

The other half of this, I blame on Facebook. Their algorithm has become too smart for themselves. A willing user such as I should be able to push my posts to my friends without acting like an SMB and paying them money. In the same breath that they turned off the wall feeds, they promoted creating a separate page for one’s blog. This is a bad approach. For Facebook, it makes perfect sense – they can easily show hundreds of thousands new pages being created within the year, with all that untapped potential for paid promotions. That money will never come. A blogger such as I would rather trust the open web as a source of feedback and views than Facebook, whose track record for respecting ad spend is poor if not terrible. Facebook is a hungry beast, always looking for its next fix.

I’m tired of being Facebook’s fix. I don’t care for it any more. I have had an intense love for it as a platform at one time. I’ve been in awe of the leadership at one point. But now the spells are broken. 2018 was a journey, both public and private, in trying to see where Facebook goes. For me, it’s led itself to a dead end.

postscript – I opened Facebook recently, after perhaps a month, and a few things jumped at me. First of all, Facebook wished me for being with them since ten years. I think that’s serendipity. No social network online has a good life of more than a decade. Facebook should be no exception. While the company has morphed and plundered and established itself as the place to go to steal access user data, it should know that its main platform is tired and done for. I will slowly stop visiting and interacting with it. I know a lot of people have done this in 2018, but I still have derived some utility from it, so I’m sure it’ll feel somewhat bad to do so. On a new device I setup recently, I specifically made it a point to uninstall Facebook (it came preinstalled for some reason), while I did install Instagram. I know this is counter intuitive, but this is a signal from me to the company that it’s time to retire your aging platform or at least break it up instead of amalgamating into it. Facebook’s ugly attempts at driving people back towards their main property are so transparent that they should accept that it’s time.

The second thing I noticed was that Facebook had killed off an ugly experiment it has forced me to be a part of since two years – the Facebook marketplace and Video tabs. The main app has had these tabs since the beginning of 2017 for me (ymmv) and I never used them. I’ve looked forward to the day Facebook does *one* smart thing and recognizes that users would like an experience that’s suited to their needs instead of Facebook’s. By the way, for a brief time last year, when I discovered the Facebook groups app, my daily activity on Facebook actually increased, because I was able to get an ad-free, clean, groups-only experience of Facebook. Then FB killed off that app. So it goes. I’m glad that Facebook has removed its craigslist clone from my Facebook experience, but I didn’t celebrate it the day I saw it. Too little, too late.

Finding my space

A large portion of the Internet is just about discovering interesting things. A part of that is just generally interesting things. But the other part is things that interest us. These two are different.

For most of my lifetime on the Internet, I’ve sought, and found, interesting things. My media diet has varied a lot over the years, flicking from one service and form of information to another. I’ve frequented twitter, Facebook, reddit, news sites, Instagram, blogspot, imgur, tumblr, self hosted blogs, forums, and a whole lot of the Internet I’d rather not talk about. I’ve seen memes (I hate memes), I’ve been caustic (I’ve learnt that’s just not useful to anyone), I’ve read entire books on Gutenberg.

But of late, I’ve noticed that I’ve finally found my space. Some people find it on tumblr or twitter because that’s where the people are. I’ve found it on RSS. I follow, unfollow, cull, clean, unsubscribe and resubscribe to blogs a lot. Whenever I think about moving away from my current self-hosted RSS feed solution, I look at the 700 odd blogs I follow and think that I’ve got better things to do than to reduce this list to an acceptable-by-the-service-I-want-to-move-to number. I used to follow well over twelve hundred sites,  but I realized that I don’t follow the news the way I used to (now I seek it out myself, when I want to, via Reuters or Apple News), so I unsubscribed every single news-site RSS feed and this is where I am today.

For a short, shining time, I was a part of the App.net story. I wasn’t particularly involved, but I did pay for the API and I did learn a few things along the way. I also made some friends and found more people to follow (overwhelmingly, these are old white guys. Just the demographic frequenting that service, I guess). When ADN went away, I still followed these people’s stories, through other social networks that sprung up (pnut, 10C, micro.blog) but also partly, through their blogs. On these social networks, I found more people to follow their blogs of.

What prompted me to write all of the above? I saw the following post by Colin Walker on his ridiculously well-built blog today –

“It’s not about being perfect, just about being.”

He’d written it in his notebook at some point and took the time to remind readers like me of it.

This idea resounds with me. This is something I’ve struggled a lot with. I’ve tried daily blogging, daily journaling, daily private blogging, scribbling notes on a throwaway page on the net, all in an effort to just put words on the screen, to just ‘be’. It doesn’t matter that those words are perfect. Or, well, it shouldn’t. I still fret over it. I still write something, save the draft, and push it out of my memory, because I worry that it’s not up to the mark. I still feel that a lot of my writing is either too laborious, or too much of a rant, or that I drone on.

Meanwhile, there are people like Colin out there, reassuring us that no one is perfect, that there is nothing more important than putting those words, and oneself, out there. I’m glad I follow his blog, and so, follow him.

I’ve found my space in this one field of interest – writing. There are others I’d like to sate, but I believe I can find blogs for those too. If not, I’ll write about that too, right here, asking for your help, dear reader.

Photo by Blue Trail Photography

unpublished, unwritten, unprocessed.

I think a lot, mostly about random things. There’s a few stories or articles always knocking around in my head at all times, such as this one which I’m writing right now.

Most of these ideas come in three out of four categories –

  1. unpublished
  2. unwritten and
  3. unprocessed.

I’ve got a drafts folder filled to the brim with written stuff that passed it’s time-frame without me hitting publish. I do that out of laziness and because I keep thinking that I want to edit, correct, rewrite. Bah. I hate that habit. It works fine for fiction, because that’s timeless. But anything else, mostly stuff I write for my blog, I should just hit publish and get it out in any form.

Then there are the unwritten ones. These are mostly stories, which I keep dreaming up ways to write. In my mind, I’ve got an open novel, a novella, a collection of short stories and some random stories just knocking around, trying to get out. I wonder when I’ll find the time/inclination to write them. Maybe I’ll use NaNoWriMo to get some of those on paper*.

Then there are the unprocessed things – fleeting thoughts I’ve had which came and went or ideas I remember today but are gone by the time tomorrow becomes current. I hate those ideas for slipping away, because I feel like a gold miner who let a huge chunk of gold wash away with the mud. Some of them come back and start troubling me again, but most of them are lost between my synapses, never to be thought of again.

Finally, there are those rare ones which are processed, written and published too. Those gems are the ones I’m most proud of you. I love having more and more of those, though I keep fooling myself that unwritten and unpublished are good enough too.

I wish upon you, oh reader, that you have the most of the fourth category of whatever your art is. I wish upon myself the same.

Cheers!

Nitin

8 years of blogging

I missed a rather important anniversary over the weekend. I just noticed that WordPress wished me a few days ago for being with them since 8 years. Of course, I’ve been writing since long before that, but most of my writing was read only by my family and the greatest achievement of my writing then was when my parents published my writing in a small book which they presented to me on my birthday. With blogging, I was still being read mostly by my family, but online and I had a sense of achievement in that I was hitting publish every time I completed a blog post, thereby putting it out there for everyone to read, if they so chose to.

My earliest blog is on wordpress.com here. I have tried a variety of platforms over time but WordPress just seems to be the right one for me. Of course, I left that blog some years ago and came to nitinkhanna.com (by way of blog.nitinkhanna.com) and self-hosted WordPress. But all that matters is that on-and-off, here-and-there, I was writing and I was publishing. I seem to have been able to average a post per month or so, though please don’t hold me to that standard (my last post here was more than a month ago and I’ve not had much to write in that intermediate time). But I am proud that I have a cumulative 1,37,361 words published on my blog (with some 66 posts sitting in drafts) Continue reading

Balloons, or how tech companies need to stop and take stock

Balloons is, concurrently, a ‘fine WordPress theme’ and a ‘whimsical’ one. It is also a theme that caught my attention when I was browsing for WordPress themes recently. Let me be clear – I was not browsing for themes for my own site. I was browsing for themes for our nikhco.in domain, which looks to be in need of a refresh.

But Balloons caught my eye. Why? I’m not sure. Maybe it was the large number of balloons that are front and center at the head of the theme. Maybe it was the oddly small typography, which could look great if it were a few font sizes bigger. But as soon as I saw it, it caught my attention. I started thinking about how I would modify it to suit my needs and change some things I’d definitely get irritated at. I hate when theme authors fixate on certain social network links but not others or add an unneeded sidebar to the theme. But then, I stopped and took a step back.

This planning and plotting I was up to, was it needed? Was it a useful change to my site? Was this theme better than my current theme? I have put many hours into editing my current theme, “Independent Publisher”, to make it look the way I wanted it to look. So should I be putting those same hours again, so soon, into a completely new theme with completely new issues I’d have to fix? I like the challenge, but is the effort valuable? Have I received negative feedback on my theme? Has someone told me that it’s not good the way it looks or maybe it fundamentally conflicts with the content? I write on a variety of subjects – code, fiction, politics, observations about the world, and movie reviews, among others. So it’s been hard to find a theme that fits all that content. Thus, over the years, I’ve experimented with many themes, many plugins and formats to elicit some kind of a reaction from my otherwise passive readership.

I was talking to my brother recently and we were talking about how LinkedIn has the habit of trying new things with their site. I understand the impulse. It’s all about constantly evolving. You have a product, you want to make it better. There’s also the business case for it. For startups and fledgling companies alike, there’s a market to capture and industries to disrupt. Thus, the need for experimentation drives them to keep trying to do new things. If a company working on a professional social network can also act as a Rolodex and be the go-to resource for industry news, that’s better for their business.

But my brother’s point was valid too – you’ve got a product. You’ve released it to the general public. You’re working on minor improvements all the time. Let. it. sit.

There’s oftentimes no need to add that new feature to your current site. If you want to experiment, make a separate platform or a new app to try things. Put it under your label, call it “LinkedIn Connect” or “Facebook Paper”. But don’t try to shove new ideas down the throats of your current users. Let them get used to the current system. Let them complain and argue the merits and demerits of it. Let them give you real feedback and then act on it. At the end of the cycle, if the new idea is that popular, roll it into your current system. Integrate your changes. But don’t start out with the assumption that people will be OK with a constantly changing platform. Most of the time, there’s no need for that.

We talked about all the other companies out there too, including giants such as Google, Cisco and HP. Those who sit on their laurels get surprised by a leaner, smarter company coming along to steal their market share. But those who continually reinvent just to keep the rust off, lose their focus and their customers. If you’ve got a radical improvement to your product, go for it. But make sure you’ve got a second set of eyes telling you that the new is actually better than the old, not just newer than the old.

So, as I looked at Balloons, I silently sighed. There was no need for it. No one is telling me that my tech posts look bad in the new theme. My most popular post ever “Installing Fever on AppFog” still gets visited a few times a week even though it’s years old now. People still read through it on a theme that’s better suited to fiction than tech tutorials and no one seems to mind. Older posts about code are still visited and no one cares if the font is larger than needed.

I bookmarked the theme and closed the tab. One day perhaps, I’ll dust it off and show it to someone and ask if it would make for a better theme for my blog. Until then, my site looks good and I’ve decided what to do with it – Let. It. Sit.


Authors Note – I wrote and edited this post on Hemingwayapp. It’s an amazing editor. It points out sentences that are hard to read, phrases that can be simpler, and the use of adverbs and passive voice. It helped me get rid of all the instances of passive voice in this text. The makers, the Long brothers, have come up with a new Beta version that you should check out. The New Yorker has taken notice of the app too, among other news media. You can read about their coverage here. This article got a grade of 6 on the app, which is not at all bad!

New Trent Airbender Mini 1.0 review

I recently bought an Airbender Mini second hand from eBay. I needed a case+keyboard solution for my first gen iPad Mini and this seemed to be a good solution.  The ideal case would have been the new iPad Mini Clamshell, but this was available for a fifth of the price and so, worth the try. I have been using it all afternoon and frankly, this is not the solution I am looking for.

Continue reading

Notes for Week 19 of 2014

The last time I did this, it was week 2 of 2014. But here we are again, with a bunch of nice links to share with you nice folks. Enjoy!

 

Internet

Which is the most popular IP among network engineers? It’s 8.8.8.8, which is Google’s DNS. But this wasn’t always the first IP to be pinged. Before this was Level 3’s not-really-public DNS on 4.2.2.2. Here’s an excellent roundup of the story behind the company across the hill.

Critical Thinking

Here’s a very simple, very straightforward approach to critical thinking. Be advised, I love repeating this ‘program’ over and over again. Do bookmark it.

Religion

Here’s an image explaining why religion can be a bad thing sometimes. Enjoy. 🙂

Writing Tools

There are some really interesting writing tools on the Internet. Here are two that blew my mind with their approach – Gingko and Lines. Do tell me what you think about them.

Finally

Speaking of writing tools, here’s one of my favorites. It’s a beautiful idea, embodied by the simple example that the developer created called “I Made Tea”. I’d really like to know what my readers make with something as elegant as Telescopic Text.

 

His Last Laugh

Khushwant Singh, noted Indian author and journalist, died last to last week. I’ve been meaning to write about it, but my memory of him is like a warm, if foggy feeling and I didn’t want to put it to paper yet. But, here we are, talking about the man, because he deserves an audience. Continue reading

[Fiction] The Cake Economy

I looked over the class. Some were bored, some where mentally absent and a few of the front row people were busy taking notes. This had been a boring class, covering financial systems and economies. I’d been droning on myself, without realizing the effect I had on the class. So, I decided to step out of it.

That’s exactly what I did, I stepped out from behind the lectern and came near the edge of the student desks. The unprecedented activity sent waves across the class and attention rose by 45%. I spoke to the students directly, perhaps the first time since I started teaching the class, “Well students, I’ve been telling you about financial systems all this time, but there’s no better way to explore them than to have a full-scale example in front of us. So, here’s what we’re going to do.” A couple of pens quickly arose to take notes. “We’re going to have a discussion,” the pens went down just as quickly, “and we’re going to talk about a fictional world where cake is the currency.” A few puzzled looks here and there amused me, this was going to be a fun lecture.

“Well, let’s begin, what do you think the world would be like if cake was the currency?”

The class geek spoke first, uncertain of questioning my idea, “but ma’am, how can cake be a currency? It’s perishable!”

“Excellent question, how can something perishable be a currency?”

The one-timer’s hand was raised, so I let him speak. “Ma’am, you’d have to make cake that can last a long time. Maybe even plastic cake.” A couple of students laughed. The one-timer was a student who used his wit once in a while, but when he did, it was always a very good idea. Too bad that he didn’t use it all the time. Unlike cake, brain power is not a perishable.

“Well, let’s remember one thing,” I responded to no one in general, “cake is supposed to be cake, it’s supposed to be edible and tasty. You can’t have plastic cake just like you can’t use monopoly money to buy candy. But yes, you all are on the right track. Pretty soon, people would figure out preservatives to keep the cake longer and yet remain tasty.”

“But I’d just eat it all instead of using it to pay my rent.” Someone from the back had decided to join the conversation. After a few laughs, I answered that idea, “true, you’d try at first. But how much cake can you eat? See unlike money, which you can’t directly consume, cake is an edible commodity, but a rather heavy food, right?”

“And what about transportation?” a girl spoke out of turn, “you can’t lug all that cake around, so I guess you’d need cake banks.”

“Yes, you cannot take cake with you on travels. You cannot ship large amounts of cake without peril and wastage, so your currency would be subject to the laws of nature a lot more than traditional currencies.”

The class geek raised his hand and started speaking, lest someone else beat him to the idea, “and really, how can you have cake as a currency? It’s going to go bad so quickly. You can’t transport large quantities and there’s the risk that someone will just eat all your money!”

“All things true, but then, what is the effect of cake going bad quickly? How does that affect the economy?” I asked. The geek stared back at me without an answer. He’s not thought that far. Lucky for him, someone else answered, a girl sitting in the second row, “it would mean that transactions would be really fast. You cannot have any savings if your currency is going to go bad in a few days tops. You’d just keep buying stuff.”

“Excellent point! You’d have an economy where consumption is more important than savings. Banks would have no money to lend out to people! Now, what about the baking process itself? What about the ingredients?”

A boy in the back raised his hand and I let him speak, “Ma’am, the ingredients would be controlled completely by the government. The baking itself would be done by them and whenever you’d need to buy something, you’d have to go to the bank-bakery and get a new cake baked.”

“Excellent point! Governments love to control the flow and creation of money. So cake would become nothing less than a scarce commodity, which could only be baked by the government’s bakeries. Now, what about piracy?”

The previous boy’s girlfriend had her hand raised before I had finished my question, so I let her speak first. She said, “Well, ma’am, you’re not considering other things about the cake itself. There’s a variety of cakes out there. So many designs, so many flavors, so many ways to decorate them. Each cake would have to be evaluated based on those features and then it’s market value would be set.”

“An excellent point! You can’t just have bland cake. The government would try to standardize the cake, but there are always inconsistencies. Also, people have certain preferences in cake. In general, the government could enforce a vanilla cake with the government’s logos on it, but that would not prevent people from liking chocolate or red velvet cake. People would barter based on their personal preferences. Now, coming back to the question of piracy, does anyone here think that cakes can be pirated or forged?”

Someone from the middle rows answered, “Of course, people will try. But the government controls so much of the economy that they’ll also control the ingredients of the cake. It’d be very difficult for someone to procure the same ingredients.”

“True,” I replied, “difficult, not impossible. Then you’d hear about cake crime, where criminals and the mafia would go about stealing flour so that they can fake cake.”

“But then,” someone chipped in, “the government would set a single design for the cakes and make that a standard. If a cake has that design, it’s a legal tender, otherwise not.”

“Absolutely! The government would definitely try to do that. They would also try to make the cake secure by adding a secret toxic ingredient, which would evaporate during the baking process if bakes in the right conditions. Of course, this would be met with some resistance, since the government is not perfect at baking cake and they’d screw up the process a couple of times.”

“So, essentially,” said one of the boys in the back, “there could be a scenario where the government finds a counterfeiter and makes them eat their own cake to see if the person gets diarrhea or not.”

The class laughed a bit before settling down and I asked my next question. “Has anyone else got anything to say about cake as a currency?”

The rich boy of the class answered, “frankly, I wouldn’t be caught lugging cake around, I’ll just get one of my servants to do it for me.”

“But what if your servant isn’t there with you? You’d not be able to buy anything anywhere,” I interjected.

“Not really,” he replied, “All the usual places I go to know me well. They know that I can easily afford what they have on sale. So they’d let me buy it and pay later.”

“That means they’d be giving you cake credit?”

Someone else answered, “Yes, that makes sense. Just like in real life, I get credit as a means of knowing if I can pay off a loan, in the cake world, I’d be able to prove that I can procure that much cake at a later date. Cake credit would work, specially if people don’t want their cake right now but at the end of the month.”

“Excellent! Now, two more things – what about the rich folk? Right now the people who own mines or oil fields, essentially natural resources, are the ones who quickly get rich. Whenever they need money, they simply sell off a bit of their property, or lease it, and they get money in return. What about the cake economy? Who’d get rich quick?”

“Well, the government has to procure goods from somewhere,” someone on the first bench chipped in, “they’ll just go to the farmers and ask for their crops. That way, those people will have more to barter for than, say, a software engineer, who has very little to do with the production of cake.”

“Wonderful! Now, one last thing – What do you all think about the type of cake? Would you want every type of cake everywhere or would countries decide on National flavors and stick with those?”

The class unanimously declared that they’d want every type of cake everywhere.

“Well, if you guys are allowed, cake would become an international currency and be valued the same everywhere. But that’s not how the real world works, right? There might be some countries that produce more cocoa than others, so they’d hold chocolate cakes to a lesser value than, say, banana pound cake.”

A few murmurs went through the class. I continued to wrap up, “it’ been an interesting discussion so far. I hope you all have enjoyed it as much as I have. There’s no better way to understand economics than to pick up a somewhat real model. Now, let’s quickly review the actual financial terms and ideas that we’ve studied here.” I spent the next ten minutes summarizing some of the terms the class had just talked about and I noticed that they were more attentive than before.

“Class, it’s been a wonderful lecture and I love the participation that you’ve given today. I will be adding today’s participation points to your final grade. If there are still people who haven’t contributed, you should do so now.”

Before I could even finish my sentence, a hand shot up from the absolute back of the class. The gamer girl, Trisha, had suddenly woken up to the prospect of her classmates getting a few more grade points than her.

“Well Trisha, get up and tell us what you have to say.”

Trisha got up slowly and kept staring at me for a few seconds. I had noticed that she’d been tapping away throughout the lecture and realized that she’d probably not heard any of it. Just to help her out, I reiterated the question, “Trisha, we’ve been talking about how the world would be if we used cakes as a currency and have cake credit. Do you have anything to say about the cake economy?”

Without even blinking, she replied, “The cake? The cake is a lie.”

The class roared with laughter as I finished the lecture, knowing full well that now, they knew everything there was to know about finance.

This post is inspired by @neilco on ADN. The thread that inspired this post sits here. Others have written about the cake economy too.