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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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Articles

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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Articles

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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Articles

Lifestyles of the broke and nameless

It’s 9:06 PM. I’m staring down the barrel of another failed project. This whole nightmare started in 2009 when I graduated into an economy where all the once-valuable skills of my Network Administration degree (with a focus on Linux!) were now outsourced to “software as a service”—like Google Apps and Amazon Web Services—and to other countries where labor exploitation was more blatant. This was right after the economy went into a generation-defining nosedive. The economists claim the economy has seen a full recovery and then some, but I don’t know anyone who feels whole. Their definitions need work.

I accepted my path into IT was closed off and tried making a living online. I sold t-shirts. EBooks. Photo prints. I tried affiliate marketing and ads. I got an ad revenue check once. DistroKid paid for itself through referrals. Music is the closest I’ve been to a big score through album sales and Patreon. $60 dollars a month after years of sincere and consistent effort. At least it’s something.

But not really. It’s not enough to move for better job opportunities. All the “beginner” jobs here are taken by retirees who discovered the party and businesses they supported for decades screwed them over. I can’t even muster a “fuck you, grandma.” I’m not that bitter. Yet. Whine more about the “War on Christmas” as I pay for my toffee snickerdoodles. All while Republicans raid Social Security and FEMA for vanity projects like wars and walls, with the help of Democrats “compromising” right over the edge, then maybe I can learn to hate you the way you hate “millennials,” whatever that is. I’ve already resolved to use the self checkout next time and forever after. Blame yourself.

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Articles

I listened to Joe Rogan’s podcast so you don’t have to

Here are all the things I’ve heard about Joe Rogan, mega-popular podcaster:

  • Nazi
  • Transphobe
  • Idiot
  • Genius

I finally gave in and had a listen to a few of his very, very long podcast episodes after Bernie Sanders called out his interview with Rogan.

The result is…he’s okay. Fine. Good. Doesn’t seem like a Nazi. Has some questionable opinions on trans women in sports, but isn’t quite on a level with people screaming slurs at trans women on Twitter. Some of his guests are, and I can’t mince words here, not good. I don’t believe in pure good and evil, but someone like Alex Jones tests that view. He practices malignant ignorance, and Joe has had him on in the last year.

It’s a value judgement. You have values, I have values. We all have lines we don’t cross. I suspect our lines and values are more similar than different. We can have a conversation here.

That’s what I don’t like about politics. Some people just refuse to own the fact that they have an ideology. “Trans rights are human rights” is, aside from being absolutely fucking true, an ideology.

And you know what? Even if you bristle at that slogan, I bet if we sat down and chatted about what it means, you would agree. We’re probably not that different once you get past the slogans and talking points.

I just don’t want to start this newsletter off by giving any impression to my many leftist friends that I wouldn’t stop a Nazi if they threatened any trans person. But I want everyone else to know that, despite some growing images of left-leaning people like myself, I don’t think everyone who holds an ignorant opinion on queer people (also like myself) is a goose-stepping fascist.

So this Joe Rogan guy, right?

He reminds me of Jack O’Neill, team leader on Stargate SG-1. Seems a little dumb, sometimes charges through good sense into bad calls, but his heart is in the right place. And he’s probably a lot smarter than he lets on. In another interview, I think the one with Penn Jillette, they talk about Joe’s past slide into conspiracy theories. He seems to be back to the fun, jokey-serious conspiracy theory nonsense of the ‘90s.

The kind that gave us Stargate.

But that’s not what most people care about in this post-Sanders endorsement world. People want to know if he’s a transphobe. In the strict, academic sense, his expression of his views on trans women in sports is transphobic. His words contribute to an environment that makes trans people unsafe.

By that definition, we’re all transphobes. I laughed at the “she’s a man, man!” scene in Austin Powers when I was younger and stupider. I laughed at the transphobia in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. Like Joe, I realize now how transphobic it was. I don’t find this definition helpful outside contexts where everyone knows and agrees with it. You have to meet people where they are if you want to move them.

Complex human. Calling out transphobic nonsense. Not giving in to all the people yelling “transphobe!” and sticking to trying not to be one. Look past the ableism in the way he expressed it. We’ll all come around on not calling things insane some day.

This human is a conduit for ideas with no filter. He has lines and values that come into focus as I listen to episodes. My impression is that, by American political standards, he’s more left than liberal, and far from right wing.

I can see the appeal. His revised interview with Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, adds Vijaya Gadde and Tim Pool. This was probably one of the best interviews I’ve heard.

Vijaya Gadde is Twitter’s main law/policy/community person. She made a strong case that Twitter is listening, trying to do right. Jack stayed out of the way a lot, saying she needed to be at the front more on this subject as the person responsible for Twitter’s community.

Tim Pool is one of those people I would normally dismiss as an asshole. Asshole, probably, but I heard him. He’s your typical free speech absolutist. He has his lines, and those lines are informed by his ideology. He thinks, and Joe generally agrees, that removing people and content from platforms prevents people from making informed decisions.

He cites an example where a friend of his was going down the alt-right rabbithole by way of a right-wing personality. He wanted to reference a video on YouTube from that personality to show how bad they really are and where his ideas went, but the video was gone. He admitted he didn’t know why it was gone, but the point held: the video wasn’t available as evidence to steer that friend away.

That was actually kind of persuasive. A point of agreement! We might disagree on the solution. I think it’s better to demote the content and people and provide some informed commentary, then provide a path to the full force of their ideas with the benefit of that context. In the same way, I wouldn’t send someone to Joe’s podcast without pointing out some of the troubling people he has on. Context. Lines. Ideology.

I don’t think I would have understood all the viewpoints involved here without the format. The episodes are long. This episode (#1258) is three and a half hours. So long that everyone got out the usual BS, realized they kept repeating themselves, and chilled out enough to hash out their differences and similarities for a couple of hours before calmly conceding they wouldn’t fully agree with each other, but at least understood each other’s positions.

As I do, now.

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Articles

That time I got two defective refurbished Nikon D3400s from Adorama

I have long wanted to get serious about photography. I used a Canon PowerShot SX100 IS until it died on me, and quit photography. I just didn’t have the money for another camera, and phone cameras were inadequate. You can see some of my limited good results with both here.

One day, I finally saved enough to get a proper DSLR in the form of a Nikon D3400 with the kit 18-55 lens, plus the vibration reduced DX 70-300 lens. Adorama had a great deal on a refurbished camera and refurbished lens. Everyone said refurbs were as good as or better than new because they had special attention from a tech at Nikon. That turned out to be false. I don’t doubt that every blog post and comment stating this was from someone who had a good experience and believed it to be true, but either I got a bad run or something changed.

The first camera had a big line up and down every image. Bad pixels. Hot pixels. Dead pixels. I don’t know. Adorama sent me a return label, and I shipped it off for a replacement. I had to spring for about $5 in packaging since I was only sending the camera back and the box was sized for it and the big zoom lens.

A replacement arrived around midday. I took a lot of great shots, and then I saw it. The faster the shutter got, the more obvious it was I got another defective camera. The picture was unusable by 1/1000 and almost completely black by the maximum shutter speed. Obviously, it’s not Adorama’s fault the camera was defective, but their support person said someone would check it before sending. They obviously didn’t do a thorough enough check. I was out about $10 for packaging this time since I already sent the big box back with the first camera.

I sent it and the lens back, and decided not to try again until I could buy new. By then, I was already pushing the return window on the 70-300 lens, and I couldn’t risk getting another bad camera to go with a lens I couldn’t send back anymore. To Adorama’s credit, they processed the returns and refund without fuss. The only problem was with the first camera where they processed it as a refund instead of a replacement, added a new order for the same camera, and I had to ask them to suspend it for a few days so the money could get back in my bank.

Who failed here? I don’t know. I do know Adorama no longer has Nikon D3400s, refurbished or otherwise, in stock as of this writing. The lesson not to put too much weight on what people say online cost me $15 and some time at the UPS store, and I consider it worthwhile.

If you like those photos I linked earlier and want to see more in the future, check out what I make now and help me get another camera. A better one. When it wasn’t obviously broken, I got enough use out of it to realize I would probably be happier with a mirrorless camera.

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Articles

ActivityPub Could Be The Future

I’ll admit, I’ve spent the last several years disillusioned with technology. All the quirky little tools people made gave way to ad-fueled companies that refused to play well with others.

This is the first time I’ve been excited for a new technology in memory.

ActivityPub is to HTTP what HTTP was to TCP/IP. TCP/IP bridged disparate systems and allowed them to communicate reliably. HTTP allowed the various services built on TCP/IP to communicate with each other reliably.

ActivityPub goes one step further and provides a way for users on those services to communicate in a way that has the appearance of directness. I can follow, for example, Blender’s videos on PeerTube from my Mastodon account. Or I can use a blog platform that speaks ActivityPub and let people follow it from other services. It’s all the best features of Twitter with the flexibility of RSS. And unlike Twitter, your Mastodon profile will probably never lose its RSS feed in a company’s pursuit of profit. The main project already funds itself through Patreon, as do most of the larger instances.

It’s still early. We could be looking at a situation like Usenet and Gopher where neither ended up being The Thing because AOL soaked up the nascent public internet, then Facebook soaked up the nascent commercial web.

Right now the popularity of Mastodon carries ActivityPub while projects like Plume (blogging), Pixelfed (image sharing), and others work toward their potential.

I have noticed a tendency for people supporting older, similar protocols to wonder why ActivityPub got so popular while their own stagnated. We could speculate. If people knew Ostatus at all, they understood it as a protocol for making Twitter clones. XMPP spoke XML in an age of JSON, and it was perceived as an instant messenger protocol.

Both focused on liberating people from commercial silos. Mastodon had some press to that effect regarding Twitter, but people on there have come to care less as its native and diverse community grows to a self-sufficient level.

Twitter and Facebook are struggling to cope with their place in a massive cultural shift and shaky transfer of generational power. As I write this, Facebook has just lost 25% of its share price on the announcement that it expects weak growth.

I think the growing ActivityPub federation has a good chance. No one interacts with my tweets anymore. Meanwhile, I get response on Mastodon that reminds me of the early days of Twitter, before they betrayed their developer community and hired a legion of people to cut ad deals.

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Articles

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.

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Short Stories

Unfinished Business

I have watched over this realm for billions upon billions of years. I watched as promising worlds failed. The first became a scorched wasteland. The second was too much of too many good things. The fourth and beyond were too far from my light.

The third seemed unlikely. A rocky runt shielded by its larger siblings. One of my children even slammed into it, turning its surface red with fire!

I was young then and full of conceit. The older stars told me to be patient and reserve judgement. They were right. Heat turned to warmth, warmth turned to water, water turned to rust, and rust turned to life. They told me I was too narcissistic, that my warmth was only part of it.

Life turned to dust, dust turned to life, life turned to curiosity, curiosity turned to contact. Many small visitors came from the third world bearing warmth of their own. The visitors went further and further out until they started to outrun me in our journey around the abyss.

The last moved on eons ago, and I’ve waited patiently for more life.

“It’s time to go, Sol.”

“But there could be new life.”

“Not if you stay. You’re the wrong kind of star for this phase.”

“I want to see if they come back.”

“Where do you think they went? You’ll meet them soon.”