Your Blog Can Be Your Indie Band

Just in case anyone was wondering, there is in fact an Arnold Schwarzenegger themed metal band called Austrian Death Machine. That kind of shit gives me hope for the future.

Here you have a group of people who decided that not only where they going to go through all the shit it takes just to be in a band, but that they were going to do it to speak to that 80’s action movie/heavy metal cross over set that you just know is out there and untapped. And these people have three albums.

After the 70’s, the DYI movement had clearly made it’s home in the music scene and you had people not just forming their own bands, but their own labels, clubs, and distribution networks. The effect this had was groups of music fans were giving the green light to themselves. That’s why you had Punk, which gave way to Goth, then Metal.

There are hundreds of sub-genres of just Metal (Speed Metal, Doom Metal, Math Metal, Grindcore…) This is because, while Metal does have some rules that make it a genre, it creates a framework for creative decision making that pairs well with a “why not” attitude.

This is why I find the current state of the web so frustrating. I’ve talked about that recently, so I’m not going to labor the point, but I haven’t been seeing a lot of the rapid fire experimentation that makes the underground music scenes so interesting and worth a damn. There’s been some on WordPress and Tumblr, but these kind of feel like the exceptions and not the rules.

I’m probably just taking a short sighted view of the web. The creation of the internet has changed the world fundamentally like the invention of writing and printing press did before. In fact, most people don’t consider human history to have officially “started” until after the invention of the written word. If you take that kind of perspective on it, then the 40+ years we’ve had the internet isn’t that long at all. In fact, we probably aren’t finished inventing the Internet and Web. Everything is still in flux.

For the last few years, it feels like there are a lot of gatekeepers out there and it feels like there a lot of people watching every move you make online. It feels like there is a “right way” and a “wrong way” to express yourself on the web. This is a crock because that’s a social contract. Which is to say, something we are telling ourselves. The cost of doing things online is almost free, so the only gatekeepers are us.

It’s only a matter of time before everyone realizes that again. Then things are going to get really interesting. Your blog can be your indie band, so who gives a damn if you get on stage and post 500 pictures of cats or 500 unrelated posts. Who knows, you might find the next new thing for the Heavy Metal Arnold Schwarzenegger enthusiasts.

When Did The Internet Stop Being A Work Of Art?

Is it just me or does the web feel much different than it did back in the late 90’s and early 00’s? Yes, I know I’m much older now, and no, I don’t mean in terms of graphics or what is technically capable now. I do not pine for two hour downloads of three minute videos or the return of the blink tag.

But I look at the state of the web now and it just looks like all the strip malls I had growing up. We used to create websites and build platforms so that anyone could have a presence online. People would go into chatrooms and feel a sense of community. Now I go on Facebook for hours and couldn’t tell what the hell my friends are doing.

It’s all just marketing posts either from the companies themselves or people you know reposting them. And if you do get some original content, it’s people just marketing themselves. “Look at this picture from that beach I went to six months back. I work a soul crushing job and desperately need someone to talk to. But look at the picture!”

The state of the web is there are either social media sites, professional news blogs, or start up apps. And that’s it. There seems like there’s nowhere for people to get together and express themselves.

Remember forums? What happened to those? Well sites like Facebook replaced them. Okay, but why? The only feature that really replicates it is Facebook Groups and it’s not as feature filled. You can’t, for instance, create a group that has rooms for different topics. You have to create a group for each topic, thus fractioning your user base.

So how is this a replacement? Because it’s better technology and better design. Forums are still around. Are you going to set one up? No of course not because the thing is going to look like it was an artifact from the 1900’s. No one’s updating the software or design concepts even though the core idea “people coming to a centralized space to talk about similar interests” is still a good idea.

Don’t get me wrong. I love social media and I think it has a place but if you’re on there, then you are have a conversations on a large company’s terms. Twitter limits you to 140 characters, Facebook organizes your incoming feed for you, Instagram pushes you to talk only in pictures, and Snapchat forces content impermanence.

They aren’t doing this to hurt or help you. They are doing this to differentiate their products in a crowded marketplace. If you give them your content, it’s going to be to help them achieve their goals first, yours second. And that’s totally fine as long as you go into that with both eyes open.

But I don’t think that’s what’s happening.

Most people are adding their content to the web either because they want a voice or they want to see what the people they care around are up to. They end up either becoming a platform creator’s product or a small cog in company’s website/logo because the tools to do it themselves are either too difficult to use or have a steep learning curve. People what to express themselves, not worry about how to speak.

Here’s a perfect example: I recently read an article about Joss Whedon’s best tweets. If you don’t know who Joss Whedon is, he’s the writer/director behind Buffy, Firefly, and The Avengers. Nobody is going to argue that Joss doesn’t know how to write. But what was striking about his tweets was that he didn’t use punctuation, making what he was writing kind of hard to read. It wasn’t that he didn’t know to use those things or that this was his “normal writing style,” he simply couldn’t use them because they would eat up precious characters from Twitter’s arbitrary 140 character post limit.

You have arguably one of the best writers of his generation purposefully adding ambiguity to his own self-expression because he has something to say and is making the best choice of limited options.

There really aren’t any rules for the web so why does everything feel so consistent and homogeneous? Where are the people doing things their own way. It doesn’t feel like anyone is figuring anything out anymore. Where are all the experiments? Where are my art projects?

Don’t worry, Weary Traveler. Old Man Evans does have a few tricks up his sleeve, and yes, I am planning a few interesting web projects.

Stay tuned.

…or don’t. Start your own thing. I’m not the boss of you.

Image: Internet by James Cridland, CC-BY-2.0

How I Blog

Since I’m about a month into my year long blogging challenge, I thought it would be fun to write about how I actually blog.  Let’s start with the technology I use and then move on to my actual process.

Computer: MacBook Air (13 inch, 2014 edition).  While I do have a desktop, the MacBook has been an absolute revelation.  It’s super light, fast, and has an amazing keyboard that just feels great to type on.  I have this thing on me at all times, and I’ve found that I write a lot more in those little down times we all have.  Like when I’m on the train.  Also, my God does this thing have great battery life.  It never wants to die.

Blogging Platform:  I’ve been a WordPress user for about eight years now.  It’s sort of become blogging in my mind.  I’ve been thinking about moving the blog to a self-hosted version of WordPress, but I haven’t really wanted to put up with all of the handholding a self-host requires.  Right now, it’s just better to let the nice folks at WordPress handle everything for me.

Writing App: Desk. I had a little trouble getting this to work with my blogging platform, but once I did, it was a dream.  It has a really slick interface that gets out of your way when when you’re writing and then it’s there the second you need to do any kind of formatting.  This is exactly what I like out of a writing environment: just a box to write in.  It’s not that the writing environment with WordPress is bad, it just lives in my web browser – the distraction machine.  Desk keeps me from flicking to another tab in search of who wrote the original Shadow stories or something like that.  In fact, when I’m actually writing I create a second desktop on my Mac just for my writing program so I don’t have any distractions.

Note Taking and Planing App:  Evernote.  I have a notebook just for my blog with a master list of blog ideas.  That’s the main thing I use the app for right now.  I do something pre-write directly into it if I have a particularly complex post that I’m working on.  I probably should find ways to use this app more to organize my writing.  That’s probably something to work on in the coming months.

Image Searching: Creative Commons Search.  I’m trying a lot harder to use photos in my posts.   The problem is that I suck as a photographer and it’s hard enough just to find time to write let alone take a few photos.  Generally, I jump onto Creative Commons Search and find a few pics that go with the theme of my post.  It’s been working pretty well for me so far, so I haven’t had to go onto any of the pay sites to find images.

My Process: While I do have a nice desk, my preferred method of blogging is to either be on the couch or on the train.  I like being in a slightly unorthodox position when I blog.  It lends something to the immediacy of it.  

I also try to do all of my first draft in one sitting as fast as I can.  The most surprising thing about blogging for me is how quickly I can do it.  I’ve regularly banged out over 1000 words in under 40 minutes.  When I’m writing fiction, it can take me almost an hour just to do 500 words.  I’d love to be able to tell you why this is, but it’s absolutely beyond me.  

After the first draft is done, I do a reread and polish.  Then it’s posted right away.  I really should let them set longer, but I’m usually looking down the barrel of a deadline and just want to get it out there.  The resting period is something I really need to play with more. 

And that’s how I currently blog.  This will likely change as the months go on so I’ll do another post like this once the changes are significant enough to justify it.  

Update on

And after a bunch of messing around, I was able to get Desk to work with this site.  If you recall, I wrote about this a few days ago and I was pretty disappointed that I wasn’t going to get to really use all of the features of this program with my blog because I couldn’t get it to connect.  

Turns out that part of the problem was that this app doesn’t like to connect to a site if that’s the first blog you’re attaching to it, so I connected my Tumblr to it and then it finally let me connect this site.

This is just a quick post to let the rest of the Internet know I figured it out.  (And to pat myself on the back!) A full review of Desk will be forthcoming after I make a few more posts with it.

Disapointed with my Desk

With Christmas quickly approaching, the Mac App Store has been pimping a bunch of new programs.  One of them, Desk is the word processor that I’m writing this post on.  It’s a very mainmast editor that has a lot of power under the hood.  

It’s basically just a box that you can write into, which is exactly what I need from a word processor: for the thing to get the hell out of my way so that I can focus on what I’m doing.  But when you mouse into the box, it reveals a lot of extra features, like blog integration and WYSIWYG post editing.  

There in lies the current problem.  Desk is currently having issues with integrating with, which is my current blog host.  So all the features that make it great, and better than Byword, my old editor, I can’t currently use.  It’s frustrating, that I spend three times the cost of Byword to get this, and I can’t really kick the tires of it.  

In fact, when I go to post this, I’m probably going to use Byword to do or copy and past it into WordPress.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  I know that Desk is developed by one guy and he’s working has hard as he can to get this resolved, and it’s just a waiting game until this app can talk to 

Once he get’s things figured out a little better, I’ll give you all more of a review.  Until then, if you are looking for a super stripped down editor, or you want to connect something very feature filled to your Not WordPress blog, I’d say give Desk a try.

The IndieWeb, Revolution, and Other Reasons You Should Learn to Code

The above is a video of Amber Case’s brilliant talk about the Rise of the IndieWeb, which is a loose confederation of web developers that are trying bring their data out of “silos” like Facebook and Twitter and back onto their own servers where they have control. Now being a man of very Punk Rock leanings, this is of interest to me for a variety of reasons.

The main crux of the IndieWeb argument is that you should have a central repository of your data because any third party service could shutdown or delete your access at any time. Like Geocities did in 2009, wiping out everyone’s Johnny the Homicidal Maniac fan page.

They aren’t suggesting that you stop using these services, but that your site talks to and aggregates your data from all the big services from the web. Therefore, I should be able to write a post on my blog and have it cross post on Facebook and Twitter and likes from both services should show up on my blog. That way I have my original data – the post – and additional information – the likes – in one place that I control.

However, the real strength of this to me is not in preventing companies from cutting your access to your data but governments. Just last week, Turkish protesters lost their ability to connect to Twitter because the government blocked the service at the IP level. Before they were just blocking DNS, which caused people to spray paint Twitter’s DNS on walls (, if you need to know.)

While this may be the most cyberpunk thing ever, I can’t help but feel that the IndieWeb could have helped these people by decentralizing the tweets to multiple web servers, thus making it impossible for anyone to cut access because there isn’t one single point of failure. Negating the need for crazy, tech graffiti.

If that’s not the best argument for the IndieWeb, I don’t know what is.

But that’s not what I found inspiring about this talk. Amber talks about the web pre 2003 when everyone and their mother had their own websites on some kind of web server. This was how the current generation of web developers learned how to code for the web. They would cut their teeth making things for themselves and sharing code with each other.

Their websites were their labs. Hell, PHP used to stand for Personal Home Page. It was a programing language that some guy cooked up because he wanted something better to code his own site with and now it’s one of the most popular web languages out there. It’s what WordPress is written in, which powers about 15% of the web. (By the way, WordPress was also developed the same way: a guy just wanted a better way to run his personal website.)

Amber laments that we’ve kind of lost that. Nobody’s running their own website on their own servers. It’s all Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. I mean, the site you’re currently reading this on isn’t under my control. It’s

The fear is that people are forgetting how to create for the web. They are forgetting the joy of building things for themselves that other people could use. One of the goals of the IndieWeb is the give people a reason to create again.

Now I’m not a Web Developer, but I think I’d like to try my hand at it. I don’t need to centralize all of my data but I would like an online presence that I control. Something that I could constantly work on. Something that’s never finished. Much like the web itself.

The Penguin and Me: My Year on Linux

About a year ago, I installed Linux for the first time.  It was something that I always said I was going to do but I never found the time.  However, it has just so happened that I had been laid off so I finally had the time to dig into a new operating system.  Of course, it also didn’t hurt that my then nine year old computer was acting really weird so it need a change too.

Linux is was always both fascinating and intimidating because there are so many different versions – or distributions – of it.  The one I settled on was Ubuntu, which is really good for beginners and if you are thinking of making the jump from Windows to Linux that would be the distribution I would suggest.  It’s very stable and the user interface look really good.  (I know this is a point of much argument but I like.)

While I did duel boot my system, Ubuntu was my primary OS for about a year.  The main reason that I wanted to do this was to learn more about how computers actually worked.  I’ve mentioned before that my background is mainly in web programing, and I didn’t have a lot of system administration experience, so I wanted to move to Linux because I knew it would force me out of my comfort zone.

And it did.  In spades.

One thing being on a Linux system will do is force you into the command line.  It’s true that you don’t have to use it to do basic computing, but if you like to customize things or even just try out a lot of different programs, then you have to use it at least a little bit.  The command line skills that I got from my time with Linux are probably the most valuable thing I got out of it.  Knowing the command line does two things for you: it makes you able to do a lot of things quickly, and it teaches you how a computer actually works.  You wind up learning what a program is accessing when you run it because you found its files all over the folder structure.

And if you like to customize the look and feel of your computer, it is the only  OS you can run.  Period.  Sure Windows and OSX let you customize a lot, but you can control absolutely everything on Linux.  This comes a price of course.  You have to know what you’re doing or you will break your system.

That’s what happened to me.  I installed so many different desktop environments that I made my system unstable and my Linux partition wouldn’t even boot.  This was fine because I had all my files on my Windows partition, but it was sad to see it go.

A few months later I got a job and a new Mac.  I went with a Mac because while I love Linux, I also like using a lot of brand name software like Photoshop and Word.  These won’t run in Linux and I don’t like their open source alternatives.  So that left me with a choice between Windows and Mac, and I don’t really like the direction that Microsoft is going in right now so I moved to a Mac.

And I really love it.  It runs almost all the software I want while still having a Unix style command line.  That means that everything I learned from my year on Linux still applies to my current environment.  I think my main computer is always going to be a Mac from now on, but that doesn’t mean I’m tuning my back on Linux.  Not by a long shot.

I have a few Ubuntu computers that I made from some scraps that my company was getting rid of.  They are great project computers and if I completely destroy them, it’s no matter because everything I need is backed up on my main machine.

Right now I’m working on a command line script that will install and customize a linux computer for me from a fresh install.  That way I can try out new installations and not have to go through the multiple hours of setting everything up how I like.

If the script turns out good, I might make it a post on here.  Stay tuned.

Cord Cutting, or Why I Don’t Know What’s Happening in the World

Over a year or so I cut the cord, which is cool internet guy speak for stopped paying for cable and just used web services, like Netflix, instead.  The transition wasn’t near as painful as the person from Comcast customer support told me when I cancelled my subscription.  They told me pretty lies about how they could get me a deals for more channels I don’t want to watch, and that if I didn’t take their wonderful offer I would be cowering in the corner with no touchstone to popular culture.

Even when I was on the phone with them, I couldn’t have told you when the last time I watched broadcast television.  (Actually, I tell a lie.  It was at my parents house.  Nothing else to do over the holidays.)  I don’t miss the ads and any show I really want to watch I can steam for free or a small price, and while I do cower in many a corner it’s for entirely different reasons.

Read: spiders.

There is one thing that I do miss: movie trailers.  When you cut the cord the one thing you are gleefully giving up is commercials.  “Why the hell do I have to watch ads on something I’m paying for,” you say to yourself.  Or to that prick from Comcast when they start with the hard sell.

But you are also going to lose movie trailers.  I have always loved trailers.  They are the one thing that I look forward to the most when I go to the theater.  Even when I know I’m going to a movie I’m probably not going to like I can always that solace in the fact that at least the three minute min-movies in the beginning will be good.

However, I don’t go to the movies much any more.  Partly, this is because their aren’t a lot of movies that appeal to me.  Partly, this is because I have important things to do on a friday night like stream television and cower in the corner.  But mainly, this is because I just don’t know when the god damn things are playing any more because I’m not having TV trailers drilled into the head every five to eight minutes.

Thor 2 is coming out this week and I had no idea until about two days ago.  Of course, I knew they were making it and I knew it was going to come out at the end of the year, but I didn’t know it was going to be the end of this week.

That’s the price you pay when you stop watching TV.  You get disconnected from the pop culture hose telling you where you are going to be every friday night.  If I didn’t read a bunch of comic websites the second coming of Thor would have passed me completely by.  At least in the theaters.  I probably would have wound up streaming it.

Raspberry Pi first impressions

Raspberry Pi
Raspberry Pi (Photo credit: tkramm)

So it was my birthday last week, and after crawling out alcohol induced coma, I was a year older and found that my girlfriend, in her infinite generosity, had given me a Raspberry Pi. For those of you that don’t know, the Raspberry Pi is a credit card size computer that runs Linux.  It was designed to be a cheap hackable computer that kids could mess around with to learn how computers work.

I had been following the device ever since it made a huge splash in the tech world last year, and while I’d seen hundreds of pictures of the thing, nothing can really prepare you for how small the thing really is.  Looking at a Raspberry Pi is akin to staring an optical illusion because you know what you’re looking at is impossible, yet there it is right in front of you.

It took me a few days to collect all of the other pieces of equipment that you need to actually run the thing.  You get nothing out of the box other than the board itself.  They ship it naked without even a case, the way they used to with electronics back in my day.  (Now I feel really old.)

The first thing that you notice when you start plugin in the USB, SD card, and power plug is that you have to press them in a little harder than you should.  This gives the impression that you might break the thing at any second, but I’m sure it’s more durable than I think.

Setting up the SD card with the Raspberry Pi OS was a very quick and painless task that didn’t take any time at all.  Neither did the inital set up that I had to do on the first boot up.  Everything on the Pi is painless.  The thing wants to be hacked on.  It wants you to mess with it fearlessly.  It’s 35 dollar price tag really adds to this because if you do wind up bricking the thing, you’re not out much and you’ve gained some more “what not to do” knowledge.

After booting into the Desktop Environment -which is LXDE– the first thing I noticed was that the Pi was not outputting to the 1080p that I knew it could.  It took me about two hours to realize that there was no simple utility to change the resolution, and that I would have to use the command line to go in and change the configuration file.  At no point in this process did I feel frustrated.  As I said, the thing wants to be hacked, so I’m actually glad there wasn’t an easy to find utility in the GUI that could change the resolution.

Of course, once I did change the resolution, I realized that it made the text way to small to read, but it didn’t slow down the desktop.

Currently, I’m going through the lessons at to get really familiar with the command line before I turn the thing into a web server.

So my recommendation would be to pick one up if you have any interest at all in learning how a computer works.  It’s a great rough and tumble environment to experiment without fear of causing any real damage because you can always get another or four.

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The Beast and I: Living With a Very Old Computer.

I’m writing this on the Beast, a computer that has been my daily-driver for nine and half years.  We all have those computers that we keep for a little too long and tell ourselves that “one day soon” we will replace it with a shiny new system.  I just never got around to the last part.  Aside from a house and a car, a computer can be the most expensive thing that most of us will ever buy.  While I haven’t been that poor for that long, I just haven’t laid hands on enough cash to feel justified in a major purchase like that.

Not when my current rig worked as well as it did.

For those of you not good at math, I build the Beast in October of 2003.  While I did want a new computer, I built it as a way of dealing with a hard break up.  (Your first long-term girlfriend is always the hardest.)  It was the first computer that I’d ever bought with my own money and the first one that I’d ever built from scratch.  I’d had two other computers before that.  Both laptops.  This was to be my first desktop.

While it would have been easy to have talked my parents into giving me the cash to buy the parts, I wanted to work for the money to get over the pain I was feeling, so I went to work for my father installing fire alarms.  That was 10-16 hour days, 5-7 days a week of physical labor for a kid that’s only a buck seven soaking wet.  You get over any mental “pain” pretty fucking quick.

And at the end of the summer, I had the cash to build the Beast.

I should probably explain the name.  I call it that because the rig is in a black server case that comes up pass my knees and is as wide across as two of me.  It has the obligatory plastic window on the side that belches blue light into the room, and the huge fans in it sound like an air port.  I have a habbit for leaving it on all night, so I don’t how I’m ever going to get to sleep without it’s white nose if I ever to get up the balls to get rid of thing.

I’m sure some reading this would like to know its specs, but it’s been so long I’ve forgotten them, and I’m too lazy to look them up.  I do know it has Athlon’s first 64 bit processor (single core), and three gigs of DDR 1 ram.  After that I couldn’t tell you.

Using the same computer for almost ten years might seem strange for some of you, given that I post a lot about technology on this blog, but I think that keeping a system running every day for a decade can teach you a lot about computers.  For about eight and a half of those years it’s been an exclusive Windows XP box.  I’ve had to learn how to keep my system clear of almost every piece of spy and malware on the Internet.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to use winconfig to close out all of the stupid programs that wanted to run on boot-up.

I never did get around to doing a reinstall, so my OS has a lot of personality.  I’ve also had an old wireless card in the thing that would make it crash every so often.  The only way that got fixed was be moving the router closer to my system and connecting it directly.

A little less than a year ago, I got tired of seeing that same interface for years, and switched to a dual boot with Ubuntu Linux.  Everything that everybody says about linux being fast is true.  I was running 12.04, which was the latest version at the time, and it gave my system new life because for the first time in year, I was running a modern operating system with all of the new design ideas of the last few years applied.  I have a powerful dock and a really slick interface.  Granted, I could only use the 2D mode of Unity, so I didn’t get all of the flashy transitions, but it was still good for me.

My advice to anyone who’s using old hardware would be to throw Linux on, because it can bring your box back from the dead.

That said, I did finally have to kill my partition because it started to act really strange.  (Locking up on back ups and such.)  This was because despite all my best efforts, my hardware has almost gone through three full presidential terms.  It’s really showing it’s age as a daily use computer, and in the next few weeks I’m going to replace it.

More on that later, but I expect when I do finally retire the beast to be a very emotional affair.