SHA Hate

SHAs are Shorthand abstractions. SHA itself is one. So is the name of a sport or a field of study. They are simple ways to talk about complex things. The idea was proposed by psychologist James R. Flynn in a book examining the nature of intelligence (see Wikipedia: What is Intelligence?: “Shorthand Abstractions: SHA”). It’s worth pointing out that while a SHA is a meme, not all memes are SHAs.

But onto the matter at hand. SHA hate. Not hatred of the ideas of SHAs, and not really hate in the ultimate sense of the word (hate also being a SHA for negative attitude towards things), but people who are prejudiced in conversation and comments by the use of certain SHAs.

The most common one in debates between free-software advocates and others used to be some variation of Microsoft with a dollar sign. This would regularly provoke kvetching about its infantility and so forth. And sometimes it was (is) misused. The problem, as usual, is that someone would use such a SHA in context, and others would miss the subtle context, then adopting the SHA as a general epithet.

In the ecig fora I’ve seen some minor murmurings against the use of the Big SHAs. The two most common to that community are Big Tobacco (BT) and Big Pharma (BP), due to both having histories with tobacco and disinformation and lobbying and massive coffers with which to undertake said disinformation and lobbying.

So the question comes, when used correctly (i.e., in context) should these sorts of SHAs prejudice us? Even if we deny that they are accurate, and argue that point, is the SHA not still useful? I think so.

I’ve seen a similar utility in SHA usage by the people who disagree with climate science. A segment of that group will, with great ease and zeal, claim that any given study has been thoroughly debunked. And they will do so using the claim as the SHA, which means that they can then pack into that one SHA any and every study that claims something similar.

For example, several studies of scientific consensus in climate science have been conducted, but disagreers lump them all under the SHA of 97% and believe they are all false due to a few potential mistakes in voluminous reviews. This is similar to the case made for voter identity card laws. That even if the Margin of Error were high, the results would not differ dramatically.

SHAs also serve as gatekeepers to community (intentionally or not). Learning the SHAs of a trade or group tends to be one way of settling into the group. Neophytes to ecigs have to learn about all sorts of -mizers and might hear about TH (throat-hit) and THR (tobacco-harm reduction) and so-on.

But those same SHAs can mark speech such that others do not understand the context or reason for the SHA. And if they have encountered others that misuse a SHA, it may trigger a stereotype. For that reason, it may be useful to avoid SHAs except when they can be used with mutual agreement.


Source-agnostic Funding

You’ve probably heard of PayPal.  You might have heard of Flattr and Bitcoin.  Surely you’re aware of credit cards and checks.

As technology has become so common, we’ve seen only modest integration by the money transfer industry.  There’s not been enough movement toward better banking options and money transfer abilities.  The result of this is that, as with the problems caused by poor service authentication, we are held back both economically and culturally.

The idea I’m examining today is source-agnostic funding.

Let’s say you’ve signed up for a subscription, and that signup represents a recurring bill.  Every month you pay a fee, and the service continues.  For convenience, you attach a credit card to that service.  It’s automatically billed, until the card expires and a new one is issued.  Suddenly you have to go through a number of services to update your card details and continue automatic billing.

Instead of this system, what should happen is that you provide a service provider with a source-agnostic funding credential.  It’s like providing a credit card number, but you control what’s attached to it.  The service providers still bill it mostly like a credit card, and it still offers as much of a guarantee of payment as a credit card.

On the backend, you can change the source at any time and save yourself the trouble of having to update a bunch of payment details at a bunch of different services.

The interesting part about this idea is that it’s not new by any means.  Credit cards are the same idea, as is PayPal and Flattr.  But where the current solutions fail is that they just shift the problem a single step.  If you use credit cards instead of checks, then you can pay the credit card with a different source, but services that are relying on that card’s details will need to manually receive new data to process a different source.  If you use PayPal, you can change the source to pay a particular bill, but if a service doesn’t accept PayPal, then you have to switch to another similar service like Google Checkout.

What’s needed is not to perpetuate that problem: if you simply set up some new container and attach existing sources to it, it will only shift the problem again.

My guess is that the solution will turn on two things:

  1. An URN-like identifier for sources of funds.
  2. A tree-like structural requirement for URN-providing sources.

The URN-style identifier will allow for easy, unique reference to a source, and the tree structure will require and allow that any source could be attached to another, to build a tree of sources.  The tree requirement is essential, as cyclical source graphs would be problematic.