If the tech industry worked like the music industry, continued.

“Hey, it’s my rock star devs! How’s it going, guys?”

“It sucks. We busted our ass for months building this thing, and we can’t make enough money to pay rent. We’re all living in the same house.”

“That sucks, but look: you’ll make your money on the next app. That’s how it works. Aren’t the t-shirt sales paying rent?”

“Are you kidding me?”

“Hey, that’s the New Media model. It’ll all work out somehow. So what can I do for you?”

“It’s about this web app aggregation thing, that lets people pay one fee and use any web app they want…what’s it called, I forget….”

“Yeah, I know what you mean. We signed a deal with them a few months ago. What about ‘em?”

“It sucks! We were getting $2.50 per unique user account creation, but now nobody wants to even sign up directly! They’re using this aggregator, and we’re getting three-hundredths of a cent when a new user uses the app!”

“Yeah, they’ve got really good lawyers, kid–“

“And that’s not the worst part! When we complain about it, everybody on Twitter says we’re fucking greedy assholes, and we ought to be giving the app away for free and making money off t-shirt sales? I mean, do any of these idiots actually know how shitty that money is?”

“Look, you’ve just got to accept it. This is New Media. If you complain, you’re part of the Old Way and you’re atavistic dinosaurs.”

“Man, all we wanted to do was write software and get paid to make it. This is just…I don’t know….”

“Look, this industry is always a gamble, right? You knew that.”

“But our app is popular! People are using it ten thousand times a day, using the aggregator!”

“So what are you complaining about?”

“We’re making thirty goddamn dollars a day!”

“Hey, sorry kid, that’s how things work in this brave new world. Look: why don’t you go get a day job? Maybe work at Starbucks.”

“Why not? I’d make more fucking money!”

“Do it. Of course, remember, you’re contractually obligated to deliver two more web apps in the next two years, and you still need to pay off that advance based on your royalties–“

“Thirty dollars a day, you mean.”

“Right, whatever. So you’re not gonna get much sleep. But hey, you young people don’t sleep much anyway, right?”

“Wait, but aren’t you still getting paid four times as much as we are by the aggregator?”

“Hey, look, sorry, kid, I got to take this other meeting right now…but let’s get drinks this weekend, yeah?”

Listen

If the tech industry worked like the music industry

“Hi! You’re a venture capitalist. We’re a tech startup. We have a web app we want to sell to people.”

“Great! So here’s how this works: we’re going to give you a chunk of money. You’re going to use this to build your web app. It’s called an ‘advance’. We’re also going to give you 12% of the revenue from your app…but only after you’ve paid back the advance in full. That’s 12% amongst your entire team, by the way. You sort out who gets how much.”

“Um…what?”

“Yeah. The way you’ll make your money is by going out and showing people your app, so they’ll buy t-shirts with your app’s name on it, because they love it! Which we’ll also take a chunk of — we call it a ‘360 deal’.”

“I don’t–“

“Also, you’re going to sign a contract with us that any other web apps you make will be our property, though we’ll be able to renegotiate your percentage at will, of course. And if we don’t like your next web app, you’re fired on the spot…but we’ll keep collecting the revenue from the web apps you’ve created that we own, and we’ll send you your royalties on it, of course…just make sure we always have a current address for you.”

“Well, I’m not–“

“Also, we don’t like the actual way your web app works, even though we want to sign a contract with you based upon how it works. We want it to be a social network instead of a content management system, because our surveys show that social networks make more money.”

“But that’s not what we do.”

“Who gives a shit what you do? You think you know better than we do, just because your first web app got funded by complete strangers on Kickstarter? We’re the professionals here. Also, when you talk to Wired: you’re 24, not 34, and unmarried.”

“Are you kidding? I have a wife and two kids!”

“Yeah, but we find that Wired readers are more likely to sign up for a web app if they’re sexually attracted to the founders and believe they’re available. It’s all about the fantasy, kid. You do blow?”

“What? Of course not!”

“Oh, you’ll be fine, then.”

“Look, why are we getting 12% of the income, when we’re the ones doing all the work?”

“Well, a third of it goes to Amazon for web hosting and delivery–“

“You’re fucking kidding me!”

“Hey, don’t blame me, blame the market. And we take the other 55% for our initial investment, and for marketing you.”

“But we’re essentially paying for the development costs out of our own paychecks, right? And you’re treating that as an investment, so even if our web app tanks, we still owe you that money, but you can write it off as a tax loss, right?”

“Well, yeah. Look, that’s how this business works. Don’t be naive. You want this deal or not? You wanna stand on the same TED stage as Mark Zuckerberg? Come on, kid, this is the big time. Shit or get off the pot.”

Listen

On the death of netbooks.

This week, Acer and ASUS announced they’d be halting production of their netbook lines…which means, because they were the last major producers of netbooks, that the form factor is all but dead.

Ironically, I expensed a cheap netbook the day before yesterday — a Gateway, which actually means an Acer, because Acer owns Gateway now. I bought it because I need to be able to test NSFWCORP HTML on Internet Explorer 9…and even with my relatively new and fast MacBookPro, running Windows 7 or 8 in VirtualBox slows everything down so badly I can’t even switch over to edit code easily.

Hence the netbook, which is small enough to throw in my bag along with my MBP so that I can test code on the go. But I also installed Ubuntu on it, because I wanted the ability to actually use it, and I refuse to use Windows if I can help it.

My primary go-to device these days is my iPad, with a Bluetooth keyboard attached. There are days when I don’t even ever open my MacBook, because I can do 90% of what I need to do with the iPad. I’ve got Textastic installed, which allows me to do basic code editing on the fly, and iSSH, which lets me login to my server and do basic stuff.

But the keyword here is basic. Almost every tablet out there — not to mention smartphone — is designed around the act of consumption, not production. It’s very easy to surf the Web, do social networking, watch movies, etc. with your iPad…but it’s annoyingly difficult to do anything involving text editing with it. It’s actually easier for me to record and write music with my iPad than it is for me to write rich-formatted text. Apple has crippled their devices in ways that make it hard to get shit done with them.

And it is crippling, make no mistake. It’s not technically complicated to allow Pages to use standard keyboard shortcuts to italicize text, for example…but Apple has chosen not to do this. Instead, you have to reach up, tap the screen, drag to select the word or phrase you want to italicize, then tap the pop-up context menu twice to get to the I button. This is profoundly irritating if you’re writing very large chunks of text.

Textastic does a fantastic job of accommodating coders with the limitations of iOS, but it’s still really irritating to try and do anything serious with it, because of Apple’s arbitrary blocks on file system access and modifying the default keyboard behavior.

Also, a mouse. Touch is great for on-the-go, but if you’ve ever tried to use a  touchscreen simultaneously with a keyboard, you know what I mean. It’s dreadful and slow and clunky.

Which is where the netbook comes in. I really love the netbook form factor. It’s compact, but it doesn’t sacrifice physical usability for slickness or “ease of use” (and oh, the irony there). You’ve got your keyboard, your mouse, and a real, full-fledged operating system.

The only real problem with netbooks, for me, is their terrible lack of power. Using the mainstream flavor of Ubuntu 12.4 LTS on the Gateway is maddening. It takes thirty seconds for anything to open. I’m going to wipe it off and replace it with one of the stripped-down Ubuntu variants (like Kubuntu or Edubuntu) to see if that improves things, because as it stands it’s nearly unusable.

The conventional wisdom is that the netbook was killed by two suspects: tablets and the MacBook Air. I suspect that’s true, because it split the netbook’s market into two factions: people who wanted a cheap portable computing device that was larger than a smartphone, and people who wanted a small, light, full-powered laptop.

But it also leaves a gap: people who want a cheap, small, full-powered laptop. The MacBook Air is still about a thousand dollars, which is outside most people’s range for buying an inexpensive portable device. The tablets are cheap, but can’t do what a laptop does. Netbooks were a nice compromise.

I also see their demise as a worrying step on the tabletization of desktops and laptops. I have a terrible suspicion — based on OS X Mountain Lion’s added features — that Apple is trying to merge MacOS and iOS into one unified operating system, which would be absolutely horrifying. I don’t need or want and won’t accept a goddamn cell phone OS on my computer. I want MacOS’s power and flexibility. Unlike Linux, it’s usable out of the box with the major apps I need. Unlike Windows, it’s secure and stable and has UNIX underpinnings. Unlike both, it’s gorgeous and easy to use.

I hoped for a long time that Apple would launch a lower-end OS X netbook (perhaps as a reboot of the old iBook line), or at least extend the capabilities of iOS on the iPad to include more advanced features (without requiring jailbreaking). But I suppose Acer and ASUS’s announcements mean I’ll never see that. It’s a shame.

 

Listen

Of all the creatures on Earth…

…humans are the only ones with the capacity to lie; or rather, to invent things which are not true. This is a fundamental property of consciousness.

Listen

Wishful Beginnings.

I started Zenarchery a very, very long time ago: the first version of the site went up, I believe, in 1998. Back then I had no idea about “weblog” software, so I wrote my own, which allowed me to make very simple HTML posts.

Over the last few years, the site has stagnated, as I’ve turned to other outlets for my ranting (mainly Twitter). But it occurs to me that it might be interesting to someone out there for me to resume cataloging my daily ideas, interests and links.

So here’s my New Year’s resolution: to try and write something here at least once a day, even if it’s only a single thought or link; specifically, something I haven’t posted anywhere else.

Here goes: I’m currently deeply fascinated by the idea of micropower: systems for self-generating electrical energy (usually in small amounts). This could be solar panels, windmills, or kinetically-generated power, like hand-cranked generators.

My current interest began with this:

This light can be charged by pulling down on a weighted cord, which I assume turns a dynamo or something similar to power the LED within. One pull equals a half-hour of light. Other devices can also be powered from this gravity light, like cellphones. (I’m interested in what they’re using to store the power — a normal deep-charge battery will lose its charging ability if it’s partially charged extremely often. My guess is a shallow-charge battery, like a car uses, or some sort of capacitance system. But that’s a guess.)

I’ve been looking at ways to modify car alternators to be human-powered as well; more to come on that soon.

Listen

How to pack

Tomorrow, I’m flying to Chicago to pick up a van that Rosalie’s aunt is very kindly giving us (we haven’t had a car in a while). I’ll be driving the van back, which is a 2100 mile drive, at least on the route I’m taking, which will take me from freezing, possibly snowing Chicago, all the way through the Ozarks, the north Texas prairie where I grew up, and the mountains and deserts of New Mexico and Arizona. So I need to pack for versatility.

I’ve traveled quite a lot in my life — less so in the past few years, but a lot more than your average American. Consequently, I’ve developed specific algorithms for what to pack.

My first rule is: black t-shirts. I always have at least 1.25x as many black t-shirts as the number of days I’ll be gone. Black t-shirts are incredibly versatile — you can wear them under a sportcoat in a pinch, they don’t advertise stains, and you can roll them up for additional space. In this case, I don’t know exactly how long it’ll take me to drive home, so I’m taking six t-shirts, just in case.

Always take at least one or two collared, button-up shirts, just in case. In case of what? Exactly.

Pants: nice jeans. One pair per day, generally, but in this case I’m driving solo, and frankly I’m only taking three or four pairs this trip. A pair of light shorts for hanging out in hotel rooms, in case you need to step out to get something from the vending machine. And they double as swim trunks, if you need ‘em.

Shoes and socks: I only travel wearing Doc Martens. Not steel toes, if you’re traveling in cold places — trust my bitter experience on that. However, I also take a pair of cheap flip-flops, which I wear to the airport to speed up security. Also good for hotel rooms.

Socks: always carry lots of socks. For this trip, I have three pairs of heavy socks and four pairs of light athletic ones.

Toiletries: I just shaved my head, so I don’t need shampoo and conditioner. I always carry my old-fashioned double razor, shaving cream, toothbrush and floss and toothpaste. If you’re staying in hotels or motels, they’ll have soap.

Weapons: This may not apply to you, but I’m driving by myself 3/5ths of the way across the country, and I may sleep in rest stops. For me, it’s my giant Gerber pigsticker and my little Gerber pocket knife. Stowed in checked baggage, of course.

Electronics: I have a Keen shoulder bag that stores most everything I need: laptop, adapters, a tiny MIDI keyboard in case I get inspired to write music. I also keep a powered USB hub that can charge my phone, ClearSpot (for 4G wireless, where I can get it) and my iPad.

I’m still debating whether I need to take my actual laptop this trip. If I wasn’t driving, I would probably only take the iPad and my phone, but it’s not like the laptop takes up much more room.

Miscellaneous: When I get to Chicago, I’m stopping at an army/navy surplus store and getting the following:

  • A sleeping bag
  • Chemical hand warmers
  • A couple of MREs (Meals Ready to Eat)

I’m also bringing a paracord bracelet, a pair of touchscreen-friendly gloves, and a warm hat. Sound like overkill? Maybe…but if anything happens, I’m prepared.

Even if I get lost and don’t have a cell signal, my iPad has a compass and a GPS locator built in, so I can generally find my way. Despite my reputation as a firm urbanite, I spent my early years out in the country, and I know the basics of surviving and finding my way in the wilderness. Not that I plan to be in the wilderness, but….

For longer trips, I follow my old buddy Abe Burmeister’s travel tips. Abe spent a few years as a nomad in the last decade, and he told me how he managed to live out of his Boblbee backpack for months at a time.

Basically, he only traveled with a few items: a couple of pairs of nice pants and a couple of nice shirts and his laptop and cell phone. He didn’t stay continually on the move — he’d be in one town, more or less, for a few weeks at a time — so when he got there, he’d buy a couple of packs of cheap t-shirts and wear them while he was in town. When he left, he’d donate them to Goodwill. This allowed him to travel with a single carry-on bag, pretty much anywhere in the world, with little difficulty. It’s a useful trick.

I’m off to pack. See you when I get home.

Listen

A letter to my neighbor

Irene,

1) I did to my knowledge not receive the letter you mention. Perhaps you shoved it under my door and the scampering neighborhood hooligans took it, or the 80 year old Swiss woman you insist is spraying poison all over the yard and running a methamphetamine laboratory in her parlor. Or the spies you seem to believe are hiding in the bushes.

Also, for future reference, shoving a note under someone’s door is not a guarantee that they will find it, see it, and certainly not that they will read it.

2) As for the $160 vet bill you presented us with: I called the vet and she told me in no uncertain terms that there was nothing wrong with Erwin and that he certainly wasn’t poisoned or sick or “intoxicated”, as you put it. (I suppose he might have been drunk, but I didn’t ask the vet if she’d given him a breathalyzer test. He has never shown a predilection for alcohol, however, as he is a cat.)

She also told me that you claimed to be my cat sitter and that I’d authorized you to take him to the vet. Neither of these is true. So you took him to the vet, incurring this bill, without my permission and for no sane reason at all. Your claims that our other neighbor, Pia, was poisoning the animals is as utterly insane and groundless as your claims that she is some sort of meth cook, and suggests to me that you are possibly a paranoid schizophrenic.

However, we’ve paid for half of your fraudulent bill, and will pay the other half at our convenience — not because we believe we owe it to you, but because we want this matter settled. But that’s as far as it goes. Consider yourself lucky that we don’t litigate against you. I’m sure there’s some legal prohibition upon stealing your neighbor’s cat and taking him to the vet because you’re a madwoman.

3) As I’ve told you twice previously, I don’t have Erwin’s vaccination records, nor do I remember the name of the veterinarian I took him to to get them. There’s no legal requirement for me to keep these records. He is a cat, not a human child.

4) I absolutely, categorically refuse to pay for your $1000 doctor’s visit. If you hadn’t felt the need to fraudulently abduct my cat and take him to the vet without my permission, he wouldn’t have scratched you. Nor was he “intoxicated”, according to the vet who saw him. You are merely demented.

Also, my wife has warned you — in writing — that you play with our cat at your own risk.

If you feel the need to take this matter to court, feel free. I have an excellent attorney and will promptly countersue you for harassment. I suspect the court will find in my favor, as I am not a paranoid lunatic who takes pictures of my neighbors because I believe they are all conspiring against me.

5) For at least two years you have felt the need to take my cat into your home without asking my permission and feed him and generally behave in a terribly creepy fashion. To avoid a confrontation, we’ve allowed this. That ends now. I demand that you leave my cat, Erwin, alone. Your Erwin privileges are, as of this moment, revoked. Don’t feed him, don’t allow him into your house, don’t touch him. If I see you put food out for him I will throw it away. If I see you picking him up I will take him from you physically.

And, God help you, don’t harm him, or I will have you prosecuted for animal cruelty. You will go to jail.

6) If you want to pursue this matter, do so through your attorney. My wife and I wish no further contact with you, and if you harass us — or continue to behave as though our cat is your pet — I will, again, pursue the matter with the authorities.

I understand that you’ve been evicted from your apartment for basically behaving like a madwoman. I advise you to simply drop this matter and leave. Perhaps your lunacy intimidates others, but you don’t frighten me with your maniacal legal threats.

Signed, Joshua Ellis

Listen

Recipe: Mac ‘n Cheese Stovetop Soufflé

Ingredients

  • 1 package macaroni and cheese (brand is irrelevant)
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup grated Cheddar cheese
  • 1/4 cup grated Romano cheese (the kind in the can works too)
  • 1 cup frozen cut spinach
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 2 eggs

Directions

Cook macaroni in medium saucepan. (If you don’t know how to do this, find a gun and shoot yourself with it.)

When macaroni is done, drain macaroni in strainer over container, reserving about half of the leftover cooking water. Pour cooking water back into pot and let it get nearly boiling again.

Add spinach and peas. Cook them in the water until they’re not frozen anymore (it won’t take more than 2-3 minutes, generally.)

Drain spinach and peas into strainer with macaroni. Melt butter in the saucepan. When butter is completely melted, add milk and cheese powder stuff from macaroni package and whisk it until it’s all mixed up. (It’ll be a bit thinner than you’re used to. This is fine.)

Pour macaroni, spinach and peas back into saucepan and, using big wooden spoon, mix with cheese sauce stuff until it’s nice and all mixed around.

Add eggs and grated Cheddar and cook over medium high heat for roughly 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until eggs are solid and mixed thoroughly with noodles and cheese and veggies. (You should be able to tell when this happens.)

Add Romano. Mix thoroughly. Cook for another five minutes.

Serve.

Listen

It’s Just The Internet. It Doesn’t Matter.

It’s been reported that Diaspora co-founder Ilya Zhitomirskiy committed suicide this week at 22 years of age; while no one is sure of the cause, of course, there has been a lot of speculation that Diaspora’s lack of traction might have been a trigger.

I certainly hope not. I wish he hadn’t done it in the first place, of course; I wish I could have talked to the guy. I wish I could have told him that there’s very little you can do at the age of 22 that’s not undoable, short of killing someone or having a kid; no matter how bleak your situation seems, you can always change it. More than that, though, I wish I could have told him: dude, it’s just a fucking social network. It doesn’t matter.

I think a lot of us lose perspective working in this industry. There’s a lot of hyperbolic and impossibly hypocritical rhetoric thrown around by tech founders and venture capitalists. The words “world-changing” and “revolutionary” get thrown around a lot, and it’s mostly at projects and products that don’t deserve these adjectives.

Diaspora had and has absolutely no chance at “changing the world”. It’s another social network, just like the ones that came before it and have now vanished into the ether. By and large, social networks are not changing and will not change the world, any more than message boards did before them. They’ll be the default exciting way that people interact online for a few years, then somebody will come up with some permutation that’s different enough to warrant another generalized term — “social whiteboard” or some other such ill-fitting metaphor — and Facebook and Diaspora and all their predecessors will be just part of the early history of the global network. This new world of ours is nothing if not ephemeral.

Most of the “revolutions” we generate in this industry are really just incremental improvements on communications technology…and most of the worldchanging we want to do involves the part of the world that is our own bank balance.

What’s really sad though — assuming that Ilya killed himself because he believed his project was a failure — is that failure is not the end of the world. Hell, it’s not even failure, as long as you understand that every new technology or idea is just something you throw at the fucking wall to see if it sticks.

I’ve been involved with two failed startups so far. Both of them were excellent ideas — because, after all, that’s all a startup really is: an idea. One of them never even got publicly announced, because the logistics required to solve the problem it was attempting to solve were simply too expensive and complex to achieve. The other one was probably eight years ahead of its time.

It sucked when they tanked. But you know what you learn, when you don’t kill yourself at 22 because your idea isn’t getting enough attention and it looks like you might not be the visionary you thought you were? You learn that failure is inevitable. And you learn that you simply brush yourself off, go “Oh, okay, that didn’t work,” and look to see what collateral you can salvage out of the thing that didn’t work. Sometimes you’ll find you’ve invented a new technology that might be useful in totally different ways than you originally considered; sometimes you’ll find you learned a new skill; more often than not, you’ll simply walk away with more experience about how the world works, and how it doesn’t.

I’m building my own little sandbox on the Internet right now, and I’m old enough and wise enough not to have any illusions about its potential to change the world or make me a millionaire. I know the odds are against it…the way they are against any startup. If it fails? That sucks, and I’m going to do everything to keep it from happening, but if it does, I’ll just move on to the next idea. I’m never short of ideas.

And I struggle with depression every day. Every day that investors fail to materialize, every day that passes that nobody uses this cool thing I’ve built, I feel like the world is ending, like I should just fling myself under a bus and get it over with. But you know what? The world’s not ending. It’s just the Internet. It doesn’t matter.

It’s a tragedy when anyone who is not terminally ill commits suicide, and it’s even worse when they have their whole lives ahead of them; and maybe there was other stuff going on with Ilya Zhitomirskiy that is not public (and nobody’s business, of course). But if the guy really did it because his stupid fucking social network wasn’t becoming the coolest thing since Cheez-Whiz, that’s even worse, because it means he did it for really no reason at all. It was a meaningless act by someone who lacked the life perspective to understand how absolutely trivial the success or failure of his project was.

If you’re one of us — people like me and Ilya Zhitomirskiy, who make up ideas for a living — never forget that. Never forget that there’s always tomorrow, always another idea, always something new and great to do. Don’t believe the hype, yours or anyone else’s. Fight another day.

 

Listen

Putting Out The (Notional) Guitar Case

As many of you who are regular readers know, I was kind of an early innovator in the realm of crowdfunding. I also regularly record and release my own music, which doesn’t make me a lot of money, but enough to occasionally pay for groceries and that sort of thing. As you probably also know, I’m in the middle of starting what I think is an exciting new Web tool, Stikki. Things are moving along for Stikki, slowly but surely…but it’s the slowly part I wanted to talk to you about today.

Here’s the long and short of it: a couple of days ago, our car died. We haven’t had it towed to a mechanic, but I’m 90% certain that the problem is that the transmission is kaput — specifically, the torque converter. (The car won’t shift out of first gear. It’s not grinding, just chugging, and that’s basically a sign that the TC is cooked.)

This isn’t much of a problem for me, as I work out of my house or the local coffee shops…but it’s a very big problem for Rosalie, who just started a new job on the other side of town. Las Vegas is a southwestern city, which means it’s a sprawl city, so her bus ride would be an hour or more, and our public transportation is both unreliable and franklydangerous for a single young woman. (Almost every dodgy situation I’ve found myself in since I moved to Vegas has occurred while waiting for a bus, and I’m a big scary dude.)

So we need to buy a new car or replace the transmission in ours, which will basically be about the same amount — $2500 or so. (If we buy an older car, I can do the repair and upkeep myself; I’m not a motorhead, but I know what a Chilton’s manual is and I’ve done basic repair work on my own vehicles before.) But at the moment, it seems unlikely that we’ll have that kind of spare money any time soon. (I’ve got one possible project that would handle essentially all of our money problems, but that’s a whole other story. Let’s just say I’m not holding my breath.)

Many of you have been willing, in the past, to pay actual cash money for my writing or my music. So here’s what I’d like to throw out here: what can I offer you that you’d be willing to pay a dollar or two for? More music? Fiction? Non-fiction? Some kind of web app? Something that, even if you yourself couldn’t afford to pay for, you’d be willing to share with the world.

I actually want to do something that’s crowdcommissioned, that’s what people want to see, rather than something I come up with myself. It’s an interesting challenge, and knowing you maniacs I’m curious as to what you’d come up with.

So what do you think? Tweet at me or write in the comments here.

Listen