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The thing that gets you to the thing

Music as I treated it the last several years was a series of stepping stones to what I really wanted to do: photography. An album sale here, a patron there, and recently members here.

There’s a quote in one of my favorite TV shows, Halt and Catch Fire:

“Computers aren’t the thing. They’re the thing that gets us to the thing.”

Joe MacMillan (played by Lee Pace), Halt and Catch Fire

Music was the thing that got me to the thing: photography. I had a lot of hobbies and interests, but picked music to carry that weight because:

  • I’m good at it.
  • I’m fast.
  • I don’t burn out on it easily.
  • Selling it doesn’t bother me the way it does for other hobbies.

And that worked out…mostly. Even after all that, it finally took a lot of gifted money to finally get there. I was burned out, ready to give up. But you know what? Had I paced myself and paid attention to my physical and emotional state, it would feel less like a Pyrrhic victory. I got the camera, but now I can’t look at my music tools without wanting to curl up into a little ball.

I mainly got the MIDI keyboard for the Lite license. Once I seriously burned out, I just couldn’t touch it. Opening Live filled me with dread. Even going back to the roots to play with LMMS or Reaper with some cheesy free software synthesizers just made me sad.

The burnout will pass. I hope. I miss making music right up until I try. Right now I’m focused on learning to use this camera while using this blog to turn my experiences and perspective into something useful for others.

If you ever decide to follow my path and turn one of your easy to sell hobbies into money to get you somewhere else, be prepared for the possibility that it’ll take longer than you expected. I had to bust my butt at it for years releasing hundreds of hours of music just to have enough saved from it to even think about buying a camera. Now I’m absolutely fried emotionally on the subject of music.

Don’t do it the way I did it. Don’t get desperate. Don’t pump out 30 things a week for a month every few months hoping something clicks enough to make it all worth it. Pace yourself. You don’t want to be ruined for that hobby on the other side.

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Mastodon Community Stimulus Redistribution

Hello! This is a big, shiny fundraiser started on Mastodon by famous fediverse dog, Hyperlink. The original goal was to raise $800 and split it between everyone who signed up.

Anyway, now it’s at almost $30,000. Hyperlink is posting updates on Patebin because dogs can’t operate WordPress with their bappy paws, so I’m helping out by reposting them here with better, more accessible formatting.

These are copied and pasted with a quick skim for problems. Comment below if I missed anything.

Each of the sections has a number attached as an HTML anchor. You can put # and the number on the end of the address to link to it. Like so.


The GoFundMe Page Description

DON’T NEED SOME OR ALL OF YOUR GOVERNMENT STIMULUS CHECK? WANT TO HELP OTHERS?

Donate your stimulus money to this GoFundMe to directly support members of the Mastodon community impacted by this crisis. Whether you’re comfortable donating your entire stimulus check, or just pitching in a few bucks, ANY amount helps support people who need it! Please donate!

ABOUT THIS CAMPAIGN (gofundme community managment team, hello)

Hi, I’m Hyperlink, a queer artist from Somerville, Massachusetts! I organized this fundraiser to help redistribute government stimulus money for members of the Mastodon community. Mastodon is an open-source, decentralized microblogging platform that is the digital home of a vibrant community of cool people. I’ve been a member of the Mastodon community for almost two years now and wanted to provide a platform where Mastodon users who have money to spare could help other Mastodon users facing financial hardship during these difficult times.

HOW DOES THIS WORK?

100% of the proceeds of this GoFundMe will be distributed to members of the Mastodon community who have filled out the two-question Google form at the end of this description. Any member of the Mastodon community with any amount of need who has provided me a valid PayPal link or CashApp handle is eligible to receive a payment from this crowdfund.

All payments from this fund will be equally sized — I will simply divide the total value of donations by the number of people who have requested aid (currently 174 people) and send everyone who submitted a valid PayPal or Cashapp their equally sized portion of the total amount raised.

Once I am able to access the funds I will then distribute an equally sized payment to everyone who has requested a payment with a valid PayPal or Cashapp before 7pm EST on April 23.

NEED FINANCIAL HELP DURING THESE TIMES? WANT TO RECEIVE FUNDS FROM THIS REDISTRIBUTION?

Click here and fill out a private, two-question form to receive money from this! Folks with ANY amount of need welcome to submit! (I had to change the form to Google Forms because SurveyMonkey tried to charge me a hundred dollars (?!?!) but if you filled out the previous form, you’re all set.)

April 16 Update

thank you so much for the overwhelming response to this! at this point more than 40 people have responded to the surveymonkey i posted, which is amazing!! however, this form is now full, so i had to create a new google form to avoid paying surveymonkey.

if you’ve already responded, you don’t need to do anything, I will make sure you get your money. if you’re looking to add your paypal or cashapp, please use this new form instead. the fundraiser description now reflects this new form as well. thanks! https://docs.google.com/forms/d/12zThRidBX9RpcIpLfoCwK229gMxIrLEYBFl8TuvCbno

April 20 update

Update 01 — This Week in Mastodon Community Redistribution

Hi everyone! Hyperlink here! Happy MastoMonday! I just wanted to drop by and offer a fundraising update. This one is probably gonna be a long one, so grab a mug of something warm and snuggle in for some in-depth talk about the next week or so of this redistribution!

tl;dr here’s all the stuff that I’m covering in this update….

  • Information about the first round of redistribution payments
  • To be included in the first round of payments, submit your PayPal or CashApp by 7PM EST on Thursday!
  • Updates on the future of the campaign beyond the first payments
  • Things that could go wrong, and what I’m doing to prevent that

…but before we get started, I just want to say one more time, from the absolute bottom of my heart, thank all of you so, so much for all you’ve done. Whether you signed up to receive money, donated whatever you could, organized stretch goals, or just shared the word with a friend or two, all of you are directly responsible for helping to foster a more empathetic and compassionate world. Thank you for taking this far, far beyond anything I ever imagined it would be.

As we get closer to processing our first round of donations, I want you to know that I value this community and the trust you’ve placed in this fundraiser immensely, and I’ll be doing absolutely everything in my power to ensure that funds are distributed as transparently and efficiently as possible. If you have any questions, concerns, or ideas regarding this project, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me on Masto or via DM.

Ok, with that said, let’s get into it!

QUICK NUMBER CRUNCH: WHAT FIRST PAYMENTS WILL (ROUGHLY) LOOK LIKE

Between the 40 SurveyMonkey entries and 144 Google Form responses, 184 folks have requested to receive funds from this fundraiser. Hell yeah! When I started this campaign, I said I was going to start the process of distributing funds one week after the campaign started, which is this Thursday. Since then I’ve learned I don’t exactly have that level of flexibility regarding withdrawal dates, but I’d like to honor that date as a deadline of sorts for this first round.

So, to be included in the first round of redistribution, all PayPals/CashApps need to be submitted by 7pm EST this Thursday. (Of course, you’re welcome to submit after that and be included in future rounds of payment.)

As of 8:44pm EST on Monday night, this campaign has raised $21,335.81 after GoFundMe transaction fees (those fees are $689.19). However, GoFundMe won’t be releasing these funds in their entirety for the first withdrawal: they’re releasing $14,030.77, currently estimated to appear in the brand new Capital One account I have created exclusively to house stimulus redistribution funds on or before April 28. To get money to folks as quickly as possible, I’m going to distribute this first $14k as soon as it’s available.

$14,030.77 in donations divided by roughly 184 people means that if funds were distributed right now, each person would receive a first payment of $76.25. (In total, if fundraising stopped today, each person would receive $155.95 before all is said and done.)

This value is subject to change as more people request funds and the campaign goes on, but I wanted to give you a clear picture of where we’re at right now. I wish I could distribute more of these funds more quickly, but we’re limited by what GoFundMe can send. Rest assured that ALL funds after transaction fees will be distributed as soon as I can.

Once funds are available in the Capital One account, I will calculate how many of those funds are going to folks via PayPals, and how many are going via CashApp. I will transfer the funds for folks with PayPals into a PayPal Business account I’ve created for this fundraiser and initiate a mass payment from there, and then send CashApp payments from the Capital One account to CashApp folks.

REDISTRIBUTION BEYOND THE FIRST PAYMENT

I’ve told GoFundMe to start withdrawing funds from the fundraiser pool into that Capital One account on a daily basis after this first withdrawal, so beyond this first payment, I should have a little more flexibility on when I can set cutoff times and start this PayPal & CashApp distribution process.

I’ll save more specific details on second and third rounds of payments for a future update, but I wanted to give some more clarity on what the future of this campaign looks like.

A few folks have asked me if the fundraiser has a set end date, and at this time, the answer is no, there is no set end date. Many folks have still not gotten stimulus checks in the mail (like me, for example!), and I’ll definitely need to do more than one round of distribution to ensure everyone gets their funds in full, so I see no reason to prohibit folks from donating more at this time.

In the immediate future, I think the right thing to do is probably to aim for the second round of payments to take place just one week after the first, provided that’s possible. Beyond that second round, it may be more sustainable in terms of workload for me to do payments on a bi-weekly basis, but bulk payments with PayPal may be easier than I anticipate. I’ll keep you all updated as this develops.

WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG?

Distributing these funds in an efficient and transparent manner is extremely important to me, and I’ve been trying to be proactive in clearing potential obstacles to people receiving funds as quickly as they can. However, this is definitely a large and complex project, so I want to be honest about some of the risk factors I anticipate for this redistribution effort and the steps I’m taking to address them.

The first thing that could go wrong is an issue withdrawing funds from GoFundMe — earlier today, at GoFundMe’s request, I updated this campaign with significantly more information about who I am and how the campaign runs, and I’ve provided a ton of government and bank identification along with the information for my Capital One account. I’m reasonably confident getting the money out of GFM will go smoothly, but a risk exists that problems arise here.

Once the funds are in that account, most of them will need to go to PayPal, which is where I feel the biggest risk factor lies. It seems to me that PayPal has a reputation for locking funds for lengthy review processes, and I want to avoid that as much as possible. Their customer support staff has been significantly reduced for COVID-19 reasons but I spent a significant portion of last night and today registering my Business account for Mass Payments, submitting verification information, and chatting with their support team about ways I can avoid any unnecessary hold-ups. I’m also going to try to transfer some of my personal money in and out of the account to hopefully trigger any verifications they might want to perform. Hopefully this goes smoothly.

Finally, there is a risk that CashApp limits the amount of funds I’m able to transfer at a certain limit. In my experience CashApp has been pretty user friendly, but this is a risk factor nevertheless. I’ll be looking into any verification information they might need from me to mitigate this in the coming days.

One last thing that could go wrong is misspelled or non-functional PayPal or Cashapp handles. I don’t anticipate many of the responses will be misspelled, but I regrettably didn’t ask for any contact information in the Google Form in case things go wrong. In the event payments to one or more people are unable to be completed, I’ll keep a list of those people’s submissions, mention in a future GoFundMe/Mastodon update how many payments were unable to be completed and ask for folks to get in contact if their payments were not received after 24 hours. In the event a payment is unable to be completed and no one reaches out, after a certain amount of time (two weeks maybe?) I’ll fold that money back into the fund to distribute to everyone else.

…whew, that was a lot! I hope that helps clear up where we’re headed in the next week or so of this fundraiser. If I missed anything, or if you have any other questions, please just drop me a line and I’m happy to help out. I’m so excited to get the first round of cash into folks’ hands — let’s keep the momentum going!

In love & solidarity,
Hyperlink

April 22 Update

Update 02 — Updates on our Payment Processors

Hello again everyone! It’s Hyperlink! I’ve been working hard to get everything in ship-shape for first redistribution and I have some updates to share with you. Thanks again for all your support!

First, here’s a tl;dr of everything I’m covering in this update…

  • First redistribution payments will be a little larger than expected, at about $96.39 per person!
  • To be included in the first round of payments, submit your PayPal or CashApp by 7PM EST tomorrow!
  • GoFundMe has confirmed my bank account and officially queued the first withdrawal, to arrive on or before April 30.
  • All identity verification for my new PayPal is complete, and all account restrictions have been lifted.

So let’s get into it!

——

GOFUNDME: YOU SIMPLY LOVE TO SEE IT

On Monday, I told you that GoFundMe was getting ready to transfer the first $14,030.77 of post-fees funds on or before April 28. Now that the GoFundMe Trust and Safety Team has officially verified the campaign and lifted a temporary hold, I’ve learned that they’re actually able to start transferring more of that money than they initially reported to me, which is awesome news.

According to the Withdraw panel of the campaign, we can expect $21,881.71 to be transferred into the Capital One account I set up for this fund on or before April 30. (Actually, GoFundMe is now showing me both this $21,881.71 payment plus an additional $1,676.83 by this date, but just to be safe, I’ll do my calculations with just the 22k.) This, plus more people signing up to receive funds, means our first redistribution payment looks a little different…

$21,881.71 in donations divided by roughly 227 people means that if funds were distributed right now, each person would receive a first payment of $96.39. (In total, if fundraising stopped today at $25,408.79 after GoFundMe fees, each person would receive $111.93 before all is said and done.)

Just like last time, this value is subject to change as more people request funds and the campaign goes on. I’ll be able to get closer to an exact first payment amount after tomorrow’s first disbursement deadline.

——

PAYPAL: YOU SIMPLY HAVE TO TOLERATE IT

On Monday, I shared my concern that PayPal was going to significantly gum up the works of getting payments distributed, and mentioned that I was going to move some of my money in and out of the account to preemptively trigger any necessary identity verification. Well, I did, and that’s exactly what happened!

After moving some money into the account on Tuesday, PayPal instantly placed a hold on the account and requested a bunch of identity verification documents and proof of taxpayer status from me. In doing this, I also learned that the mass payment method I was planning to use to disperse funds would have ended up charging me somewhere between six hundred to more than a thousand dollars in unnecessary merchant fees — fucking yikes!

After two days of struggling with PayPal’s honestly horrible customer support interface, earlier today I was able to submit three identification documents, have them all reviewed and approved, and have all account restrictions lifted. Additionally, the new Capital One account is now linked to the PayPal, and I’ve identified a manual method of disbursement that, while more labor intensive, results in zero dollars in transaction fees.

I knew PayPal would be a pain in the ass, so getting all this verification shit out of the way before I have access to the funds will hopefully ensure a smooth redistribution next week.

One asterisk here: despite all this, I have still not yet able to send myself a test payment roughly equivalent in value to the payments I’ll be sending to fund recipients. I’ve been advised by PayPal to try again in 24 hours. Everything is now in order with my account so I can’t foresee any reason why this wouldn’t work, but PayPal might try to be PayPal about it. I’ll keep you updated.

——

CASHAPP: BOTTOM TEXT

Today I also linked my Stimulus Fund account to my Cashapp and dropped their support team an email asking if there’s any further verification I can submit to them to ensure funds move smoothly. I haven’t had any problems with them before, but did this just in case. I’ll let you know if I hear anything.

——

…and that’s the update! I hope your week isn’t going too badly. As always, please feel free to hit me up on GoFundMe, Masto, DM, or deep within the recesses of your mind with any questions, ideas, or concerns.

Catch ya later,
Hyperlink

April 23 Update

Hello everyone! Super fast update.

First of all, submissions for the first redistribution are now closed! Feel free to add your name to be included in subsequent payments, though they’ll likely be smaller.

Second of all (this part’s important), while I was able to successfully send money to a friend with PayPal today (!!!), PayPal’s security system is still preventing me from sending a test payment similar in size to the ones I’ll be sending to fund recipients.

I am working nonstop to get this account functional. But just to make sure I can get you your funds as fast as possible, if you submitted a PayPal and have a CashApp you can use instead, please let me know so I can use that instead. If you already listed a CashApp, or listed both, no need to fill this out. https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSeP_dwLP9NkbApA1zqUpetZ1dalXPjtuAiM1bcZlv6-3aturg/viewform?usp=sf_link

That’s all for now! I’m sure I’ll have a longer update for you soon.

Love & solidarity,
Hyperlink

April 24 Update

Update 03 — BIG UPDATES: Closing the Fund For Now, First Payments Sent Tomorrow, And More

Hi everyone! Hyperlink here once again, with some BIG updates on this redistribution effort.

I’ll start with some great news — I woke up this morning to find $23,558.54 from GoFundMe waiting in the fund’s Capital One account. That means that I will be starting the process of sending payments tomorrow evening, well ahead of schedule! This is exciting, and I can’t wait to get people their funds.

I also have other, less fun updates to share with you.

  • The first big one: basically, because I’ve been having such trouble getting PayPal and CashApp to cooperate (which I’ll cover here in detail), I’m planning to close this first round of redistribution tomorrow at 11AM EST and focus on getting people their money before raising any more.
  • The second big one: due to those aforementioned problems with PayPal’s security system, while I will definitely be able to start sending payments via CashApp tomorrow evening, PayPal folks won’t receive funds until PayPal’s security system allows me to send them. Ugh.

In this update, I’ll give you all the details I currently have on these developments, as well as some other important information, including how people in the US & UK can potentially get their money faster.

Let’s get into it!


STARTING TOMORROW, I’M CLOSING DONATIONS & FUND RECIPIENT SUBMISSIONS FOR NOW

Earlier this week, I set 7PM on Thursday as a deadline for being included in the first round of redistribution payments, with no plans to stop collecting money or payment information beyond this. After running the numbers, I realized this approach would result in people submitting after that deadline getting less than 20 dollars from the fund, and those who submitted earlier getting way more. Since the number of people who submitted payment info after this deadline was super small, I’m just gonna go ahead and include everybody in this round of payments.

However, I am also going to stop accepting new donations and requests to receive funds effective tomorrow. @queerfrog@radical.town has organized an amazing 24hour livestream in support of the fundraiser until tomorrow at 11AM EST (please go support them and check it out!! https://www.twitch.tv/protodrew), and I think this is the perfect way to end this first round of redistribution. After the stream ends tomorrow at 11AM EST, I’ll go ahead and stop accepting both donations to the fund as well as responses to the google form, and start distributing funds tomorrow evening.

Why close it now, after stating in the first GoFundMe update that I wasn’t planning to? This was an extremely difficult decision to make, one which I’ve been weighing for days — I have still not personally received my own stimulus check to donate, and I know I’m not alone in that. Plus, this fundraiser has so far exceeded my expectations that capping it at any point beyond the absolute maximum we can contribute is a bit disappointing.

Ultimately, though, the ongoing problems I’ve been having with both PayPal and Cashapp, as well as the volume of organizational work this has required as a single organizer, have led me to want to prioritize redistributing the money we’ve raised so far before I try to organize distributing even more money. This doesn’t necessarily mean that this is the end of this stimulus redistribution effort — on the contrary, in my view this experience has demonstrated just how essential mutual aid efforts for the Mastodon community are, and seeing others step up to provide other resources to the community during this time has been inspiring. I’m definitely open to re-opening the fund for both new contributions as well as new recipients in the coming weeks based on the experience I’ve had with this first round — perhaps with a small team of volunteers, and DEFINITELY with tried-and-true payment tools established well in advance.

More to come on this in the next few weeks. As always, I am humbled and overwhelmed by your kindness, support, and generosity. Thank you so much for this journey so far. I’m excited to focus on getting people paid as fast as I can! Speaking of which…


NUMBER CRUNCH: AN ALMOST-FINAL BREAKDOWN OF THE FIRST PAYMENT

Now that the first deposit is here, I have downloaded the spreadsheet of recipients, cleaned the data of duplicates and blank entries, made requested adjustments, and can present a close-to-final breakdown of the first payment.

After processing the data, there are 235 folks who have requested to be part of this first distribution and submitted Cashapps and PayPals. I’ll be distributing $23,558.54, so each person will get a first payment of $100.25. (If fundraising were to stop today, with $27,412.31 raised after GoFundMe fees, each person would receive roughly $116.64 before all is said and done.)

As always, this might adjust as any final people join the list or donations get made before 11AM EST tomorrow, but this is getting close to the locked-in final numbers.

For the roughly 25% of you who submitted Cashapp handles, barring any fuckery on Cashapp’s side of things, your payment should be hopefully be sent tomorrow (more on that in the CashApp section of this update). Unfortunately, for PayPal folks, their security system is preventing me from sending your payments tomorrow.


HYPERLINK VS. PAYPAL: WHY PAYPAL PAYMENTS WILL TAKE LONGER TO RECEIVE

When I started this fund, I was definitely not expecting it to get the support it did. It has been an unbelievable blessing, and a privilege to serve the community in this way. But in terms of disbursing payments, the logistics became a little scary.

Any PayPal payments I make from my personal account will include my full name. While I trust this community deeply, and strongly doubt any of you would use this information to harm me, I also know that I can’t control how information like this spreads once it’s out there, and know friends who have been targeted and harassed due to personal information leaking online.

The only way to send these payments without releasing my full name to everyone is to create a Business account, which I have done, and spent several hours of each the last six days struggling to get to a level of basic functionality. I have submitted several pieces of verification information, including my SSN card, bank information, photo ID, and proof of residence, and had them reviewed by PayPal staff. I have had all holds on my account lifted for two days now. And yet still, despite days of work, I have only been allowed to successfully send ONE fifteen dollar payment with this account. PayPal’s support team have basically said to me that they are not in control of the automated security system which is blocking these perfectly legitimate test payments, and are unable to explain why this is happening, or what anyone can do to fix it.

This has been extremely frustrating, not only because it’s required me to spend hours a day attempting to get a hold of PayPal’s (understandably) limited support staff, but more importantly, because I know how important this money is to all of you.

My efforts to get this account working are still ongoing. I asked to speak to more senior support staff and have been told that someone will call me at some undisclosed point in the next 24-48 hours (lol). Additionally, I’ve done research online that suggests not touching the account for a full 72 hours will reset the verification system and allow payments to go through smoothly, so I’m hopeful that things work starting Sunday night.

The good news is that ZERO of these funds are trapped in my PayPal balance, and PayPal will only be used to transfer money out of the Capital One account. Also, in a worst-case scenario, I could rely on that real-name personal account to send these payments if I need to.

I will fight tooth and nail to get this money into your hands, so please don’t worry about funds not being distributed — I am on it, and they will be. Rest assured I will provide all the details I have as this continues to develop, and will distribute funds to PayPal users the very earliest I can. With all of that said, for folks in the US & UK, using CashApp instead may help you get paid faster — here’s more info about that.


AN UPDATE ON CASHAPP

Mechanically, CashApp is all set — I’ve been able to send a test payment well over the amount I’ll be sending with zero problems, and my account is verified. However, after a few days of waiting, CashApp customer support got back to me today with more information about transaction limits: apparently, my account can send between $2,500 to $7,500 weekly “depending on what you are approved for”, with no way I’ve found to see what that limit is or adjust it. I’ll be sending around $6k with CashApp, so depending on what my limit is, I may be able to send all of these payments tomorrow, or I may be forced to send funds over a period of a 1-2 weeks.

For the sake of fairness, tomorrow I’ll start sending payments to a randomly-ordered list of CashApp folks and hope I am not limited.

In the event that my account limit allows all payments to be sent tomorrow, using CashApp can help folks in the US & UK to get their money faster. I’ve created a Google Form for people who submitted PayPal but can use CashApp instead to share their handles with me. If you already listed a CashApp, or listed both, no need to fill this out. Of course, if PayPal ends up working faster, I’ll try to use that instead. https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSeP_dwLP9NkbApA1zqUpetZ1dalXPjtuAiM1bcZlv6-3aturg/viewform?usp=sf_link


That about covers it! There’s definitely a lot to discuss here, and I’m sure you’ll have questions. As always, I am available via GoFundMe, Masto, and DM. To ensure everyone who needs to see this does, I’ll be sharing this on GFM, Mastodon, and emailing as many recipients as I can with a link to this as well.

Thanks for everything, everyone. I’m excited to get your money to you very soon.

Love & solidarity,
Hyperlink

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Normal wasn’t okay.

The commentor class keeps talking about going “back to normal” once the covid-19 pandemic is over. They come with checkmarks on Twitter and tickers in the lower third. To them, this is nothing but an exception, and everything was fine before.

This new precarity they see is only sudden in its reach and scale. Most people I know were still not stable after the post-2008 recession was officially over, if they ever were. If this is your first time worrying about the future, your best bet is to find someone talking about what’s actually changed.

So the question is: who should you listen to?

You could find some market opinion person, but they’re the same people who fixate on single digit percentage movements in the stock market while tens of millions of people are one paycheck from losing it all. I saw a screenshot of CNBC with Jim Cramer going wild over a rising Dow while the ticker mentioned millions of people freshly unemployed. I don’t think anyone making six figures (or more) can understand this situation enough to have a useful opinion on it.

I don’t have anyone specific to recommend, but I can offer some heuristics for identifying credible people:

  • People who talked about the need to decouple healthcare from employment before this crisis brought the health insurance and health care system’s failings into stark contrast.
  • People who talked about the need to address systemic injustice before now. There is a reason groups deemed “essential” during this crisis, like retail workers, are chronically underpaid.
  • People who advocate for justice reform. Prisoners are being forced to make PPE and hand sanitizer while underpaid and unable to afford it. Prisons charge them for most things. Look into the 13th amendment and the so-called reforms of the ‘80s and ’90s, then look at the demographics of prisons. The injustice doesn’t start with prison labor.
  • Just about any queer person. This one is unreliable since, as always, class tends to beat identities. Caitlyn Jenner endorsed Donald Trump in 2016 because she’s a rich Republican, and that’s what rich Republicans did at the time. No amount of “I didn’t know!” after the fact can undo the damage.

Generally, anyone who understands why “back to normal” is so absurd to so many people is a better source than any so-called market expert in the media. The severity and precarity of this pandemic is a symptom of long-broken systems, often intentionally so. You can eventually go back to a normal that worked for you, but you’ll be back here in 10 years if you ignore the sinkhole forming under the house.

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Stargate Atlantis and Universe, in retrospect

I rewatched Stargate: Atlantis for the first time since its 2004-2009 airing. I remember the furor over its cancellation in favor of Stargate: Universe.

I originally defended Universe. It rode Battlestar Galactica’s coattails, but I thought it had potential. Now, rewatching Atlantis, I get the anger. Universe is fine as a typical network TV science fiction show. It rides the line between reality TV and space opera.

Universe is fine as a generic space opera. Not good, not bad. The final scene of the final season was great TV and made me hopeful it would get another season. As the show that murdered Atlantis, it’s the worst thing ever. Atlantis is so good! I thought expedition leader Dr. Weir was an annoying, overbearing character when I first watched. Now I have a broader view of the space opera genre.

Watching Star Trek: Voyager’s Captain Janeway, another leader in a similar situation who made similar hard choices while far away from familiar social and legal structures, gave me a fresh perspective on what it takes to keep a crew together far away from home with hostile aliens at every turn. Voyager ended three years before Atlantis started, but I didn’t watch it until recently.

Universe had no intentional leaders. It had a temperamental lead scientist who felt like a defective clone of Battlestar Galactica’s Baltar. The military lead was a sanded down version of the cliche military tough guy of the Stargate movie with none of charm or tact of Colonel O’Neill. Neither of them led half as well as some of the side characters did. Atlantis had John Sheppard and Dr. Weir, each one a perfect evolution of their SG-1 counterparts, Jack O’Neill and Dr. Carter. Universe improved with time, but it was doomed long before.

Universe ended with a cliffhanger that gave hope for a renewed show with a real leader. Eli was one of the most developed characters and could easily have taken over, and he was poised to as he stared out the window at the expanse between galaxies.

And he was never heard from again. Boring. Back to Atlantis and dreaming of what could have been.

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Distrokid Review: It’s about what I expected

Note: DistroKid replied to a few points! See below.

Note 2: This review is from 2018, but should still be accurate.

I was skeptical about DistroKid, the music distribution service that’s quickly making a name for itself. The guy behind it likes to tout the fact that the founders of his main competitors have endorsed his service. Any kind of high profile recommendation makes me immediately suspicious. The fact that the website is nearly devoid of details did not help.

But…

It’s okay. I signed up. Paid my $19.99. Found out the basic plan didn’t include some things I wanted, like setting prices and release dates. You get a grace period where you can get a refund and upgrade, so it’s not too bad, but I do wish they’d mention that up front.

Uploading your music for distribution to stores is pretty straightforward. You select how many tracks you want, upload to each slot and fill out details, add your cover, choose your stores, and send it on. This is where we hit the first problem.

Their uploader is…bad. It works, as long as your connection is reliable. Mine wasn’t at the time. If your connection goes out during upload, it just stops and never retries. It doesn’t save any of your information, so you have to put it all in again. Blech. What is this, 2004?

Aside from that, it’s about what I expected. They have a referral program. I sold one subscription within 20 clicks, so either I got lucky or they’ve done a lot of work refining their sales copy. It’s one of the few affiliate programs that won’t make you feel like slime. Payments take too long. Months is just not reasonable in 2018.

Spotify and Google Play were the first to get my music up. iTunes came next. Tidal was extremely late: emails telling me they got my music up came in six months after I submitted it. All the publicly shared music sales reports I’ve found show a steep dropoff after iTunes, Google Play, and Spotify, so it barely matters.

DistroKid does what it says it’ll do on the sales page: sends your music to the stores, gets you paid. Simple. However, I cancelled my account once I got my last payout. Patreon is working better for me: make music, post it to people paying monthly, repeat. I make almost as much in a month here as I did in almost a year on DistroKid.

While my DistroKid account is inactive, you can still get a 7% discount with my referral link.

Update: DistroKid responded when I posted the review on Twitter.

  • Tidal wasn’t late getting music in the store. The email I got was from when DistroKid turned on a new thing to get updates from Tidal, so I just never got a notification before.
  • The uploader is a direct connection to AWS. I understand they want to limit how much they hold on to before sending it off to the stores, but at least saving all the metadata would be handy. Upload problems probably aren’t all that common, so it may just not be worth the engineering effort.
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A yarn about software development culture

Note: This is a republished version of an article from an old blog.

Richard Stallman resigned and/or was pushed out of the FSF, depending on your alignment.

People put up with his behavior because he helped start the free software movement. But after a point you have to wonder: how many potential contributors were put off because software development as a culture makes excuses for great men with underdeveloped interpersonal skills?

I have a theory that people in tech who tolerate this behavior can’t imagine doing anything else. Dealing with this kind of behavior takes time and energy, and risks becoming a pariah. So they optimize! They live and breath code, and can’t imagine that someone would be drawn to it and not feel such a pull that they would put up with anything to be a part of that culture. From that perspective, avoiding difficult conversations—minding that their interpersonal skills might also be lacking even if they see the problem and want to say something—is a rough optimization so they can focus on code and intellectually stimulating conversations.

Unfortunately, like all premature optimizations, avoidance of conflict leads to more problems than it solves. Not everyone who would make a great developer sees it as their only option. Many see the culture and run off to the less toxic cultures around one of their other hobbies. Like knitting: oft-mocked by toxic people, but just as technically challenging as any software project. If you think debates over code licenses get loud, try knitting pattern licensing.

This culture put me off going further into tech for a long time because the pull wasn’t strong enough to make the value proposition compelling. Instead, I went to music. I put up with irritating EDM bros because I love listening to and making electronic music even if it drives me to want to quit sometimes. And, I’ll admit, I avoid taking people aside to talk about their behavior because I’ve been burned so many times doing that. I could be better about this.

This kind of situation is even bad for a person pushing people away. Making excuses for their behavior denies them the opportunity to grow and learn to make sharp critiques in a way that makes the recipient learn and feel better about the work they did in the process of making the subject of critique.

Time for a personal story!

I used to make a lot of bad, lewd puns every time a chance presented itself. A friend pulled me aside and said they appreciated my humor, but felt like my misses took away from the hits because I had no filter, no standards. By realizing they were right and doing the work to step up my pun game, I was happier and made a lot more people groan.

Richard Stallman had to leave in 2019 because people made excuses for his behavior for decades. This could have been prevented anywhere along the way. Genius doesn’t matter if the vessel for that genius repels equal geniuses who feel like they have better options.

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More Satellites Than Planes

It’s about 9PM on the first of April, 2020.

Georgia’s governor just issued a shelter-in-place order after a March that saw new global covid-19 cases rise from a couple thousand a day to over 70 thousand daily.

The order ends on April 13th. It may be too late to stop a major outbreak, but it seems like the the people at the top are catching up. Cities, counties, events, and many states paid attention sooner. Maybe he’ll extend it when he realizes things aren’t getting better on the 13th.

Between the weeks of thick clouds and my anxiety about going out for a walk amid an outbreak, I haven’t seen the night sky in a while. The steady stream of planes to and from Atlanta is missing. I saw a lone, dim speck of light float by, but no telltale blinking lights. A satellite. A digital check of overhead planes confirms it’s not just the clouds getting in the way. Whether it’s the order or a weeks-long normal, I do not know.

Almost as quiet is the nearby highway. I blamed my stopped up ears at first, but I heard one car go by every few minutes.

I’m concerned, but optimistic. Good luck, everyone. Wash your hands, dab when you cough, and keep six feet away. I see one plane overhead as I finish this draft. There’s hope.

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Patreon’s Future

It’s easy to say Patreon’s fate was sealed the moment it took venture capital (VC). It’s widely understood that VC locks a company on a trajectory with three possible outcomes: acquisition, IPO, or yet another “our incredible journey” shutdown. The received wisdom is that all of Jack Conte’s sincere pleas for patience and trust are meaningless because he no longer ran the company once the VCs got in. As someone currently relying on Patreon for more than bare sustenance, this was…deeply troubling.

Patreon lets you export your patrons, email included, but not connect directly to Stripe. They aim to be a full-service creative destination, and giving you a way out doesn’t serve VCs who see a half billion dollar valuation. I’ve been around the e-block a bit and know exactly how it goes when companies get destination ambitions. See: AOL, Twitter, Facebook. All three followed the same path of closing off ways for third-party tools to access the services while they ate a growing market. Patreon hasn’t done that yet. Watch for it.

Companies with dreams of dominating (or saving) the world have four stages:

  1. They start out as a way to get somewhere and connect with people. Patreon connects creators with supporters’ bank accounts in a secure way.
  2. Then they become a destination, one of many points of interest along the way. Patreon has enough accounts that it’s easiest for a supporter to go there when they want to support someone even if the creator has a presence on sites like Ko-fi or Gumroad.
  3. Then they become prisons as a source of relief and prosperity turns into an obligation. Patreon is on the road to this stage. It isn’t yet so bad that people hate it, but most creators on there see that something is wrong.
  4. Something else comes along to remind people of what they lost, and the company rarely survives without losing most of its market. See: Ko-fi, Gumroad’s under development membership platform, or Substack.

Every company had an AOL keyword in their ads. Then it was a Twitter handle or a Facebook page. You already see Patreon pages mentioned in YouTube videos and podcasts.

Patreon is at stage 3. No one ever knows what #4 looks like even if they can make educated guesses.

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What ActivityPub means for musicians

The gist for people not extremely online: ActivityPub is the latest in a series of protocols aimed at letting different technologies speak with each other. It’s like HTTPS, which brought this post from my web server to the program you’re reading this in. Below that is TCP/IP, and different protocols at the ISP level like DNS and BGP.

Yeah, it’s a lot of acronyms. It’s enough to know that ActivityPub is a protocol that typically runs on HTTP, and it’s gaining steam where previous protocols in the same category like XMPP and OStatus got little traction outside tech circles.

For musicians, this means you will soon have options beyond Facebook and Twitter. Independent developers are hard at work on tools that handle events like Facebook, music like Soundcloud, short posts like Twitter, and things you probably never thought of. They all speak the same protocol.

Right now, it looks like what you do now but…distributed. It’s nice because there are enough people on the ActivityPub network to be seen, but not so many that you fall below the noise floor if you aren’t relentless.

There’s a typical pattern in technology.

  • Someone makes a technology that does the thing people already do, but different.
  • Early adopters rush in because hey, new thing!
  • Everyone else struggles to understand it. They usually compare it to earlier, failed efforts to replace the current thing. They’re right 99% of the time.
  • The tools people use for the old thing turn user-hostile and try to keep people from leaving as the new thing takes over. Twitter got an early start by killing off its developer ecosystem. They know how this goes.
  • Thousands of posts appear on the new thing in the theme of “I’m glad I made an account and kept a presence here early!”

Most people who already find adequate success on Twitter and Facebook will struggle to justify the time and effort, but it’s coming. ActivityPub is happening.

Right now there are a few main platforms that run on it. For example: Mastodon, Pleroma, PixelFed, Nextcloud. It’s tempting to assert that these will be the thing but, historically speaking, they probably won’t be. There are too many issues and splits for them to last.

The platforms that carve out new frontiers like this always end up a footnote. Ask the average internet user about Usenet, or AOL, or any of the vanguard of Web 2.0.

That sounds like I’m saying “don’t bother.” What I’m actually saying is “don’t repeat the last mistake.” Yes, go make a Mastodon account. Make one on Pixelfed. Find a Funkwhale or PeerTube instance. Write your novel on write.as. Organize an event on Get Together. You can benefit from it now, but make sure you have a way to tell people where you are once better tools sprout up in the ruins of the ActivityPub vanguard.

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Leveling up my music theory

If you told me in 2010 that I would start 2020 working on a sonata in notation, I would definitely ignore you. I’d tell you there’s no way I could do it. All those lines! Who can remember it all? What even is a sonata? Ridiculous.

Well.

Gay Babies Doing Fine Anyway (bass clef lines)

Always Checking Email, Gaily (bass clef spaces)

Every Good Bean Deserves Foxes (treble clef lines)

Foxes Are Cute Eeeeeeee (treble clef spaces)

I’ll need to figure the others out, but this will take me far.

I got this Udemy music composition and film scoring course bundle on sale and it quickly improved my music. The film scoring part will be especially helpful. I’ve wanted to get into making theme music forever, but it’s hard to piece together a real understanding from random blog posts and videos. The author also gives steep discounts to people who buy it, and I really dig his style, so that opens up a lot of potential expansion on a limited income.

As I watched the videos and put the things I learned to work, so many things I was on the brink of understanding clicked. For example: the diatonic chord progression. This is where notation helps a lot. I had trouble understanding the relation between chords and scales with a piano roll. I could see their shape, but I didn’t understand chord notes are just scale notes separated by three keys (as in piano). I kind of got this when I realized I could fold keys (as in scales) in Ableton Live and see there’s an equal number of spaces between notes in chords, but I still didn’t get 7ths, or chords that are diminished and augmented.

MuseScore’s piano roll view helpfully shows the relation:

Every single one of those can be the root of a chord. I recognize the shapes on the roll, but now I understand them in the notation. They have the same shapes on notation even if one note lands on a flat or sharp—usually black keys.

That also finally helped me understand what key signatures and relative keys are about. Since the shapes stay the same, you only need to know which notes get a flat or sharp. G major and E minor are the same notes (for example), but they start from different places. So if I want to memorize the scales and modes (and I do), I don’t need to start by memorizing every note in each one. I can just remember which keys are flatted and sharped, which keys share notes, and let the memorization unfold on its own while I jam on my keyboard. And since chords look the same, always, you only need to know which notes are flatted or sharped by looking at the key signature.

This also led to me getting the circle of fifths. You go to keys adjacent to the one you’re writing in to find off-key chords—the chord/chords that the two keys don’t share—to add a little life to your progression. I use an app called Piano Companion Pro that shows you all available chords in a key and even lets you build progressions to export as MIDI files. I don’t export; I set whole notes in MuseScore, type out all the root notes, then build the chords on it. Ctrl and an arrow key will move it up or down an octave if it’s too high or low. It’s faster than moving exported MIDI files around.

I’m not even halfway through the videos as I write this. More to come in the new year! Stay tuned, and get on the Patreon goodness for discounts.