Your Blog Can Be Your Indie Band

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?

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

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: WordPress.com.  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 Desk.pm

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 WordPress.com 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 WordPress.com, 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 WordPress.com. 

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 (8.8.8.8, 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 WordPress.com.

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.