A Brief History and Understanding of Money (and Gold)

“Money is one of those things that’s completely familiar and completely mysterious” – James Surowiecki, “The Financial Page” column for The New Yorker.

With that thought in mind, here are two well presented posts on money and its history, found via Kotte. The first post is reply on reddit in response to someone wondering where all the money in the world has gone. The result is an enlightening walk-through of how we got to money and what money is.

From www.reddit.com:

It’s hard to explain this to a five-year-old, because there are some fairly abstract concepts involved, but here goes…

All actual “money” is debt. All of it, including monetary gold, etc. (Don’t argue with me yet, I’ll get to that.)
Imagine a pretend world with no money, some kind of primitive villiage or something. Now let’s invent paper money. You can’t just print a bunch of paper that says people have to give you stuff, because nobody would honor it. But you could print IOUs. Let’s walk through this…

  • Let’s say you’re an apple-farmer and I’m a hunter. You want some meat but haven’t harvested your crops yet. You say to me, “hey, go hunt me some meat and I’ll give you 1/10th of my apple harvest in the fall”. Fair enough, I give you meat, you owe me apples. There’s probably a lot of this kind of stuff going on, in addition to normal barter. In time, standard “prices” start to emerge: a deer haunch is worth a bushel of apples, or whatever.

The second article comes from one of my favorite magazines, IEEE Spectrum1, by way of the afore quoted James Surowiecki who gives a brief history of money and some of its effects:

From spectrum.ieee.org:

Money’s decline in feudal times is worth noting for what it reveals about money’s essential nature. For one thing, money is impersonal. With it, you can cut a deal with, say, a guy named Jeff Bezos, whom you don’t know and will probably never meet–and that’s okay. As long as your money and his products are good, you two can do business. Similarly, money fosters a curious kind of equality: As long as you have sufficient cash, all doors are open to you. Finally, money seems to encourage people to value things solely in terms of their market value, to reduce their worth to a single number.”©

These characteristics make money invaluable to modern financial systems: They encourage trade and the division of labor, they reduce transaction costs–that is, the cost incurred in executing an economic exchange–and they make economies more efficient and productive. These same qualities, though, are why money tends to corrode traditional social orders, and why it is commonly believed that when money enters the picture, economic relationships trump all other kinds.”©

It’s unsurprising, then, that feudal lords had little use for the stuff. In their world, maintaining the social hierarchy was far more important than economic growth (or, for that matter, economic freedom or social mobility). The widespread use of money, with its impersonal transactions, its equalizing effect, and its calculated values, would have upended that order.”©

Both of these articles got me thinking about an episode of NPR’s Planet Money I listened to a while back on why we use gold as a de facto base unit of currency. It boils down to this: of all the basic elements on the periodic table that meet these basic requirements:

  • Not a gas
  • Doesn’t corrode
  • Doesn’t burst into flames
  • Doesn’t kill you
  • Is rare, but not too rare
  • Easier for pre-industrial people to forge

…gold is the element that fits the bill best.

  1. Fair Disclosure: I am a member of IEEE 

Using Shortcodes in the_excerpt

I was working on a project for a client that requested using shortcodes in the_excerpt:

From codex.wordpress.org:

Displays the excerpt of the current post with […] at the end, which is not a “read more” link. If you do not provide an explicit excerpt to a post (in the post editor’s optional excerpt field), it will display an automatic excerpt which refers to the first 55 words of the post’s content. Also in the latter case, HTML tags and graphics are stripped from the excerpt’s content. This tag must be within The Loop.

You’ve probably encountered this functionality when you’ve done a search on a WordPress site or viewed an archive, the post will often end in “…”

From a programming standpoint, there was a point in time where if you wanted to have shortcodes used in an excerpt for WordPress, all you had to do what include this in your code1

add_filter( 'the_excerpt', 'do_shortcode');

However, I found out that at some point in the last few years since I tested the above system, the way in which WordPress process shortcodes has changed. I poked around a little bit in the WordPress TRAC, but didn’t see anything that would explain it. I suspect it might be a filter order, but I’m not sure and I decided that investigating the root cause at this point wouldn’t make a difference (although I would like to find out eventually).

Here’s what I learned and how I solved the problem.

When you have not provided an explicit excerpt, WordPress creates one via wp_trim_excerpt2:

function wp_trim_excerpt($text = '') {
	$raw_excerpt = $text;
	if ( '' == $text ) {
	$text = get_the_content('');
	$text = strip_shortcodes( $text );
          $text = apply_filters('the_content', $text);
          $text = str_replace(']]>', ']]>', $text);
          $excerpt_length = apply_filters('excerpt_length', 55);
          $excerpt_more = apply_filters('excerpt_more', ' ' . '[...]');
          $text = wp_trim_words( $text, $excerpt_length, $excerpt_more );
      return apply_filters('wp_trim_excerpt', $text, $raw_excerpt);

The way wp_trim_excerpt gets called is not super intuitive, but looks like this:

the_excerpt3 calls get_the_excerpt4 via filter hook

wp_trim_excerpt is hooked into get_the_excerpt via a filter hook defined in /wp-includes/default-filters.php5

A quick glance at the code for wp_trim_excerpt reveals that strip_shortcodes is run immediately after getting the content of the post. Also, there is really no way to filter this out easily unless you rewrite the entire function, which is what I did:

remove_filter( 'get_the_excerpt', 'wp_trim_excerpt'  ); //Remove the filter we don't want
add_filter( 'get_the_excerpt', 'fergcorp_wp_trim_excerpt' ) ); //Add the modified filter
add_filter( 'the_excerpt', 'do_shortcode' ); //Make sure shortcodes get processed

//Copy and paste from /wp-includes/formatting.php:2096
function fergcorp_wp_trim_excerpt($text = '') {
	$raw_excerpt = $text;
	if ( '' == $text ) {
		$text = get_the_content('');
		//$text = strip_shortcodes( $text ); //Comment out the part we don't want
		$text = apply_filters('the_content', $text);
		$text = str_replace(']]>', ']]>', $text);
		$excerpt_length = apply_filters('excerpt_length', 55);
		$excerpt_more = apply_filters('excerpt_more', ' ' . '[...]');
		$text = wp_trim_words( $text, $excerpt_length, $excerpt_more );
	return apply_filters('wp_trim_excerpt', $text, $raw_excerpt);

So there’s the solution. It’s definitely a bit longer than the way it used to work, but it should do just fine.

  1. functions.php or elsewhere 

  2. WordPress 3.4.1: /wp-includes/formatting.php -> line 2096 

  3. WordPress 3.4.1: /wp-includes/post-template.php -> line 240 

  4. WordPress 3.4.1: /wp-includes/post-template.php -> line 258 

  5. WordPress 3.4.1, line 147: add_filter( ‘get_the_excerpt’, ‘wp_trim_excerpt’ );  

Servers Moved

I’ve been moving around some of the technological assets under my control. I completed a Registrar switch in May. I’ve been working the last month to move servers. I’m still with BlueHost because they are great, I just moved to a box with fewer people on it (i.e. less resources to share). I also get my very own IP address and SSL certificate!

I just completed the switch of AFdN (which was the last asset on the old server) this afternoon. Everything should be okay, but if not, please let me know.

For those interested, here’s what I did (over SSH from the new server):

ssh old_server.com 'cd ~/www/; mysqldump -u username -p mysql_wp > dump.sql;'
rsync -av --exclude 'notthisfolder' -e ssh old_server.com:~/www/ ~/www/.
mysql -u username_new -p mysql_wp < ~/www/dump.sql
rm ~/www/dump.sql

Some resources I used:

Failure Doesn’t Suck

Two comments from Sir James Dyson that resonate with me:

I don’t mind failure. I’ve always thought that schoolchildren should be marked by the number of failures they’ve had. The child who tries strange things and experiences lots of failures to get there is probably more creative.

We’re taught to do things the right way. But if you want to discover something that other people haven’t, you need to do things the wrong way. Initiate a failure by doing something that’s very silly, unthinkable, naughty, dangerous. Watching why that fails can take you on a completely different path. It’s exciting, actually. To me, solving problems is a bit like a drug. You’re on it, and you can’t get off. I spent seven years on our washing machine [which has two drums, instead of one].

In general, I don’t think we (as society) appreciate and accept failure as much as we should, or maybe we just mislabel them (i.e. call things failures that should be called something else).

Learning how (and when) to fail gracefully and with pride (instead of shame) has been a tough element to learn. However, I’ve found that being okay with failing has lots rewards that make me a happier person, in particular because I’m not as anxious anymore.

Not All Pixels Are Created Equal

Whenever I help friends and family buy a new camera, they almost always turn to pixels as the dominating trade point. The reality is, that’s probably not the most appropriate measure of “bestness” and here’s why:

The metric most often used by camera manufacturers and marketers to tout their products has been pixel count. That’s a shame, but it was probably inevitable — it’s easy to measure, and consumers are used to the idea that more is better. However, the number of pixels is a measure of quantity, not quality.

This is a great article explaining in a mostly non-technical way why pixels aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.

Case in point: I can (and have) print a 30″ x 20″ from my eight-year-old 6.1 MP Nikon D70 that look great because it has a 23.7 mm × 15.6 mm1 sensor. If I were to print a picture at the same size using my year-old iPhone 4S with its 8 MP 4.54 mm x 3.42 mm2 sensor, it would look very noisy.

  1. 369.72mm2 

  2. 15.52mm2 

Waiting and the Power and Efficacy of Good Works

People frustrate me1, it’s hard for me to even find a word that appropriately reflects my sentiment. It feels like mass ignorance.

I see so many things wrong with the world, religion included — there are so many people who do things in the name of Christ that are downright unchristian and not supported by scripture.

When I come across someone who is spewing mass ignorance, I feel vehemently obligated to correct their erroneous ways. I felt like that is my only response: tell that person they are incorrect and, if needed, show that person why they were wrong, even if doing so required excruciating proof.

This has been my Standard Operating Procedure for many years. It was a frustrating one, but it seemed like the only way. I’ve desperately wanted to find a better way. Today may be that day.

Chauncey linked to post talking about 1 Peter 2:15 (ESV): “For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.”

From thehandmaid.wordpress.com:

If atheism, unreasonableness and bitterness stem from ignorance, that ignorance is as a fury, which can quickly be restrained by good works. If you argue with an atheist in his own rabid manner, you strengthen the fury of atheism. If you converse with the unreasonable by derision, the darkness of unreasonableness is increased. If you think you will overcome the embittered man with anger, you will stir up a greater fire of bitterness. A meek and good deed is like water over a fire.

I like this approach. The problem for me with telling people why they are wrong is that I end up getting all worked up as well. I may have won the battle, but I’m losing the war. This is why I like what Peter is saying, “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”2

However, the flip side of this is that it often takes people a lot longer to recognize good deeds than to hear my technically correct but probably ungracious argument. I hate waiting. It’s probably one of the things I’ve had to practice the most in the last few years: being okay with waiting3.

I keep thinking back to this passage from Hustling God:

When I wake up in the morning, I can jump in the shower, grab a cup of coffee, and rush off to work to be productive. Inevitably that will destine me to a day of running. Like Jacob, I will either be running to make something happen, or running away because it didn’t happen as it was supposed to. But if sometime in the morning I become still with prayer and the words of God, then it will occur to me that all of the important things have already been accomplished today. The sun came up and the earth stayed on its axis without any help from me. The Psalms remind me of that. I have awakened to a world I did not create to receive a salvation I did not earn. The Gospels make that clear every time I read them. And I need that reminder, because there are so many temptations in the course of the day to be my own savior, which is always, always, a temptation to hurry in the wrong direction.

For me, it still really is about learning to slow down.

  1. I am “people” too, by the way 

  2. 1 Peter 2:12 (ESV)  

  3. See also: Haiti