Liberia's blackboard blogger

Published September 8th, 2009 edit replace rm!

Alfred has set up his own information business on a busy street in Monrovia. He posts a compendium of news on a blackboard. His sources are local news papers and a network of correspondents throughout the country.

I was quite fascinated that the most prominent information is current market prices for a whole range of different commodities as well as currencies. It shows how important good price data is in any society.

His business model? Advertising.

Liberia’s Blackboard Blogger from WhiteAfrican on Vimeo.

Starting a business in China

Published August 31st, 2009 edit replace rm!

Just came across this post about Starting an Internet Business in China, which covers some interesting things that you might not have thought about.

Go read it yourself, but I’d just like to make a comment on his first point: “Hong Kong is your friend”. He points out that you should incorporate and bank in Hong Kong. This is easier than in mainland China, but also is a known entity in China so it makes it so much easier to setup payments etc.

From my own experiences these are the things you don’t often think about if you’re coming from the US. But banking, incorporation and payments can be extremely difficult in many companies. Even more so if you’re a foreigner.

Hong Kong works under the British Common Law system and has over the last 50+ years perfected the legal structures and banking for international commerce. I’m sure that there are issues you run into as a foreigner, but they are likely to be a lot less trying than what probably could happen to you in mainland China.

This also brings me to the subject of offshore companies. If you believe the press this is all about tax evasion. However there are many reasons people use them. These may be hard to think of if you’re in a relatively well run country such as the US or Denmark.

In many cases such as the above the red tape in China is too difficult to deal with, so people incorporate offshore in Hong Kong instead. There are other cases where the local financial system is quite literally unsafe, where people have lost their money time and time again. Which is why many people from Latin America store their money offshore in Uruguay, Miami and Panama. Yes, Miami is offshore if you’re from South America.

Another great piece of advice is to avoid the temptation to undercut. This is good advice for anyone following my idea on global bootstrapping. It may be cheaper where you are but use that to your benefit and reach ramen profitability even quicker.

Consuming OAuth intelligently in Rails

Published July 21st, 2009 edit replace rm!

It has been fairly easy to provide OAuth services in your web application (see How to turn your Rails Site into an OAuth Provider), but to actually consume Twitter, FireEagle, my own Agree2 and other OAuth services has been a fairly manual affair.

There are great gems out there that wrap up the process for the above mentioned services. So it hasn’t been too hard to support one of them. But what to do if you want to support 5 different services today and more in the future?

I knew there should be some generic approach to handle the OAuth authorization process, but had not spent too much time thinking about it until we actually needed to consume external web services for Agree2.

Well I think I’ve cracked it in a a nice Dont Repeat Yourself fashion.

Major update to Ruby on Rails OAuth Plugin

Published July 21st, 2009 edit replace rm!

I am really happy to announce a major update to the Rails OAuth Plugin it has been coming over the last week or two with help from Nobukazu Matake.

The plugin is now a gem. Just install it with:

sudo gem install oauth-plugin

For a quick tutorial in how to use it see How to turn your rails site into an OAuth Provider.

New OAuth Consumer generator

The biggest news is the OAuth Consumer generator which should remove any excuses you ever had to not use OAuth when talking to Twitter etc. I will cover this in more the next blog post. For now checkout the README for more.

OAuth 1.0a support

The biggest change on the Provider side is support for OAuth 1.0a. There is also optional backwards compatible support for the insecure OAuth 1.0.

Please read Seth’s Idiot’s Guide to OAuth 1.0a for detailed information on what changed and why.

Nothing has changed on the OAuth 1.0a for existing AccessTokens, but if you need to support clients that only support 1.0 add the following at the bottom of your environment.rb file:

OAUTH_10_SUPPORT = true

HAML support

Both consumer and provider will now create haml view templates. Just use the —haml flag.

Cleanup and easier updates

The original plugin was a really quick proof of concept, with lots of things that really needed cleaning up. I am trying to do that little by little now.

The first step of this is to have the main functionality of the OauthController in a module within the plugin. This allows you to update it easily. We will do the same for the various Token classes as well over the next few releases.

How to upgrade?

As long as you’re using git/svn or whatever the easiest way to upgrade is to run the generator and let it overwrite your existing files. Then use a diff tool to bring any changes you had done into the new code.

If you don’t like the idea of doing that check the README for what should be done. Worst comes to worst create a dummy rails project run the generator and compare files.

Do you need advise or help with implementing OAuth in your Rails application?

I am available as a consultant and would be glad to help your company out. Whether you need help in developing an OAuth strategy or in practical hands on implementation help. Send me an email at [email protected] to let me know what you need help with and I can give you an estimate and my rate.

Entrepreneurs, coders and activists we need you to help reboot banking

Published July 3rd, 2009 edit replace rm!

Last week I gave my talk on Agile Banking at Reboot 11. This week I have taken my talk and turned it into a series of blog articles of which this is the final one. I have links at the bottom of the article to the previous articles.

How do we build this?

Open web standards are the way to do this. A lot of great work has been done in the past couple of years.

OpenID may provide us a better alternative to account numbers. OpenId is a universal id. It replaces username/password on many different sites.

We may need guidelines for high security open id’s. A voluntary certification of trusted opened providers.

Oauth is a new web security standard. It lets all your applications talk together. You could use it to provide your accounting system access to your accounts. It could also be used for one off or subscription payments.

We also need new simple financial standards.

WideLedger is a simple financial exchange format. It contains only very basic transaction information embedded in a normal web page. It can be implemented in less than an hour for any financial web application.

Together with OAuth it makes it very easy for you to bring your financial info together. Startups will create all sorts of cool and useful financial mashups.

Finance isn’t just about reporting transaction but also performing them so we also need a very simple standard for performing a transfer from one account to another.

After that a slightly more complex standard for performing an exchange between two different parties on two different financial service providers. A simple application would to buy shares in a mutual fund with money in my electronic currency account.

We need Open Source Software to run this new generation of financial software.

  • Ledgers are the foundation of any financial application.
  • Exchange Software to manage transactions between financial services
    There are lots of opportunities for hosting providers to run the above software in a secure manner.

We also need online auditing services to keep an eye on the new financial services companies but also on the hosting providers.
But what about the regulators?

They mean well but need pushing. Change has to come from the grassroots.
We need brave financial rebels, who believe it is better to ask forgiveness than permission.

This doesn’t mean being stupid (always remember what they did to Doug). Limit your risk as a rebel – think small, think community:

  • small community currencies
  • community lending
  • projects with a purpose

If we are forced to I say be the Christiania of finance. Force regulators to think small and learn from you.

Once you have a little bit of momentum engage them publicly. Show them it works and in the end it makes their job easier. Then scale.

Similar proposals

Most of the above ideas are refreshed versions based on work I did from 2000-2004 in the NeuClear project. However I have noticed some interesting new mainstream proposals.

Limited purpose banking a proposal by Kotlikoff and Goodman

It seems very similar but without worrying too much about barriers to entry and know your customer.

Call to action

Programmers, entrepreneurs, activists, lawyers and accountants we need you. I want to hear from anyone with an interest in this. Please write me at [email protected] if you have any thoughts or ideas or want to get involved.

Join the agile-banking google group or attend a BarCampBank .

Earlier this week I wrote about Risky Business the core problem in todays financial services industry, Benches, Coffee and Bubbles about the origins of financial innovation, Douglas Jackson of e-gold who has been one of the most innovative people in the financial services space and my proposal to create a new banking system.

These were all based on my Talk about Agile Banking that I gave at Reboot 11

About me

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My name is Pelle Braendgaard. Pronounce it like Pelé the footballer (no relation). I live in wonderful Managua, Nicaragua. I work with Clojure, Bitcoin and Ethereum.

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