Goodbye John Edwards

Today John Edwards threw in the towel. I was working up a big citation post about this argument between my brother and me, comparing why in the head to head comparison between Edwards and Obama I found Edwards more compelling. He had my support and I think the best Democratic candidate has now left the race. Here’s a snippet of his farewell speech:

And I want to say to everyone here, on the way here today, we passed under a bridge that carried the interstate where 100 to 200 homeless Americans sleep every night. And we stopped, we got out, we went in and spoke to them.

There was a minister there who comes every morning and feeds the homeless out of her own pocket. She said she has no money left in her bank account, she struggles to be able to do it, but she knows it’s the moral, just and right thing to do. And I spoke to some of the people who were there and as I was leaving, one woman said to me, “You won’t forget us, will you? Promise me you won’t forget us.” Well, I say to her and I say to all of those who are struggling in this country, we will never forget you. We will fight for you. We will stand up for you.

But I want to say this — I want to say this because it’s important. With all of the injustice that we’ve seen, I can say this, America’s hour of transformation is upon us. It may be hard to believe when we have bullets flying in Baghdad and it may be hard to believe when it costs $58 to fill your car up with gas. It may be hard to believe when your school doesn’t have the right books for your kids. It’s hard to speak out for change when you feel like your voice is not being heard.

But I do hear it. We hear it. This Democratic Party hears you. We hear you, once again. And we will lift you up with our dream of what’s possible.

I wish I had as much faith in the other candidates or the Democratic Party as I do in John Edwards. I don’t, but at this point what else do I have left? Maybe I’ll be able to vote for him in 2016.

Around the Podosphere, Money Edition

I felt like doing one of my roundups of interesting things I have seen or heard lately in my podcast experience. It seems like a fair bit of it overlaps with the recent discussions here of “going pro” in new media, of making money and general issues of new media as an industry. Let’s what we can make of this.

I ran across this interesting video via a link from Twitter. It is Cheryl Colan’s observations about the ads in Epic-Fu. I don’t follow Cheryl and in fact this was the first time I’ve ever heard of her. I think her video and the examples she raises are worth thinking about. She points out that the ads in Epic-Fu make the recommendations segment that is adjacent seem like product placement. In the comments to that post, which I only saw 90 seconds ago preparing this post, Steve and Zadi seem pretty defensive and refer to “accusations of dishonesty.” I thought Cheryl was quite clear that she has no inside knowledge of their motivations and only is referring to her experience as a viewer of their videos. I know that when I have recommendations in episodes for which I had sponsors, I have made statements that “my opinion hasn’t been bought. That’s not to say it couldn’t be, just that it would take a hell of a lot more money than they are paying.” Worth a watch for anyone interested in this conversation.

I’m late to this particular show but Colette Vogels’s Rules for the Revolution podcast has a fantastic episode talking about new media insurance. For those of you who are convinced this is what you want to do (and can’t be talked out of it), it is worth your time to listen to this show. Particularly if you have enough assets that getting them sued out from under will really ruin your life and you are a professional podcaster, spend the half-hour listening to this show. Really, do it.

I forget how I first ran across the Writers Strike Chronicles podcast but I am enjoying it, if “enjoying” can be considered the right term for something I wish didn’t exist at all. The host, Tanja Barnes, as best I can tell is an actress and also an aspiring writer. I believe at least one person she interviewed was someone whose screenwriting course she had taken. [Update: Tanja corrects me in the comments, it was a poetry writing workshop not screenwriting and she has no aspirations as a screenwriter. ] This show does quite a service for the cause of the writers. Having listened to a dozen or so episodes, I feel like I understand their position much better. I’m not sure what Tanja’s motivation for doing the podcast is, but she is demonstrably doing a service to the writer’s community. I doubt that she is looking for a direct payoff, but somewhere in here she is building up a karma surplus. Later on in her career, she might well find herself needing that goodwill and being able to draw on it. There’s a way where you can consider a podcast where someone is receiving value for their work, even if no cash ever changes hands.

I was a fan of the Rounders poker podcast, as someone interested in both poker and podcasts. I listened to it for about a year, and when I first subscribed I went back and got a few older episodes of particular interest to me, like the one with Chris Ferguson. It was a solid podcast that was also on radio in Vancouver. It went through a quick period where it was dropped from the AM sports station and was a podcast original. After a fairly short period, it morphed into the official podcast of Two Plus Two, one of the most well known poker publishers. In fact, I think the show was actually improved by this because now it has things like the “Sklansky minute”, which may not mean anything to you podcast geeks but as a poker geek it about made me pee my pants. I don’t know the terms of this move, but one presumes there is some recompense for Mike and Adam. This might the absolute best way one can monetize a podcast, by doing one so good that you become the official house podcast for a business that then pays you. Assuming, like these guys, that you pretty much do the same show before and after that’s about the best case of such things. I’ve recently tried out the Poker Road podcast and despite the pedigree of the high profile players involved I find it has too much AM sports talk style bullshitting around for my taste while the Two Plus Two cast is pretty much all business while still being fun. I highly recommend it.

I’m Voting Edwards

John Edwards in Conway SC
Originally uploaded by evilgenius

Over the course of the primary season, my only real question was whether I was going to vote for Kucinich or Edwards. That question has been answered over the last few weeks, and I’m proudly voting for John Edwards.

I’ve long ago decided that I hate that triangulating style of politics that Bill Clinton mastered so well. If I hate that from politicians, how can I do any different with my vote? I hear people not wanting to vote for candidates because they “aren’t electable.” That’s crap. It just makes it a self-fulfilling prophecy. I’d have been happy to vote for either because they are the two candidates in the field who unwaveringly support the ideas and ideals that I care about. Kucinich disappointed me hard in Iowa when he urged his supporters to move to Obama, despite the fact that Edwards is much closer to him in his beliefs. At the Myrtle Beach debate and really all through the campaign, Edwards has stood out for me as the true progressive candidate.

I’m voting for him today and I’m using his “virtual phone bank” tool to make phone calls to other South Carolinians on his behalf. I refuse to accept the Big Media brokered coronation of Clinton over the last year, or Obama since Iowa. Let’s throw a wrench in their game plan and have John take this state, the state he was born in. Stick it to the man, vote Edwards!

The Beancounter Bubble

Here’s a sad article but one that seems true to me about how our country and economy has been sucked dry by beancounters.

The American ship is sinking from the weight of its own economic narcissism. Our accountants and finance professionals have been richly rewarded for squeezing the last microscopic drop of profitability out of every other profession. That’s why American newsrooms don’t bother with news. That’s why American old age homes imprison their residents as cheaply as possible. That’s why American insurance companies refuse to pay out claims for sick people or destroyed homes. That’s why we’ve proven that America is massively incapable of nationbuilding in Iraq or in Afghanistan or even in Louisiana.

So, thanks to the beancounters who know what things cost but not how to actually do anything, American is accelerating toward becoming a third world nation. And no one in the rest of the world will give a shit, and rightfully so, thanks to our cavalier attitudes toward Iraqi civilians, toward Sudanese refugees, toward the Chinese children who sew our clothing, toward the immigrants who work on our farms and in our hotels and hospitals and in those extremely profitable old-age homes, and toward anyone who isn’t white and speaks English.

This is the kind of thing that keeps me up at night. Are you more worried about getting blown up or watching your house, savings and job disappear into the nothingness?

News Gang

Today I was invited to participate in a new Gillmor venture, the the News Gang. Steve’s always liked me despite whatever dicklike behavior I exhibit, so what could I do but say yes? Late in the afternoon I got a direct Twitter message from Steve inviting me. I was a little worried about the logistics of calling in from my day job but it all worked out. Thanks to Steve for the invitation. It was nerve wracking but fun. It definitely is harder than it sounds, because it is difficult to tell what time to talk so a few times I just sort of waded in and threw an elbow. It’s kind of like being on a Subgenius show.

The episode is live now, so check it out. I’m not going to listen back because I don’t want to hear how stupid and nervous I sounded, but I’d appreciate honest feedback on how I did from those who do listen. Just the other day I was wondering to myself what I had to do to weasel myself an invite onto the Gillmor Gang/Group and bingo, there it was. Papa likes!

Add Album Art To an MP3 from Command Line

As I work on Super Secret Project X, one of the things that would make it a little handier would be the ability to add album art to MP3s from the OS X command line. I had been using mp3info2 as my tool for manipulating ID3 tags from the command line, but it doesn’t do album art. I dug around a little and found EyeD3, which is a bunch of python packages at it’s heart. I downloaded the source package and followed the directions, and it works great on my iBook. Right on!

Podcasting and Money: Round Two

Here is a guest blog piece that follows the post the other day about new media serving either the audience or the sponsors but not both simultaneously. J Wynia wrote me a very thoughtful email on the subject and with his permission I’m blogging it here. Everything from here out is him talking.

I started two or three times to write something quick on Twitter and failed, so on to the email. Forgive any tendency to ramble. I, too, have been trying to articulate thoughts on this whole topic.

I see two basic choices for deriving income from podcasting activities:

  1. Gate off the primary content/value itself and charge for membership or direct download.
  2. Provide secondary value in some way and charge for that.

All discussions of “new media” business models eventually boil down to what all discussions of business models need to at some point: value and the controlled access to that value.

In the sell-the-audience-to-the-sponsor model, the value is in having a product/service mentioned to a given group of listeners/viewers. As the podcaster controls the bits and bytes that comprise the show, the sponsor can’t get that mention without the consent of the podcaster. So, by charging for the ability to bypass that controlled access to the value, the money equation works.

When you move to reverse the equation and your goal is to make money by making the listeners happy, you will have to have the money come from them. To do that, value has to be provided and some method of collection as well.

Donations let the listener figure out their own value on the podcast and do their own collection. This tends not to work very efficiently. In places where it does work, it’s often because the dismal 0.X% response rate is being applied to a number of listeners/viewers is large enough to make the decimal shift into profitibility. In other cases, like public radio, they actually:

  1. Block convenient access to the content by doing membership drives regularly.
  2. Provide substitute value in the form of magazine subscriptions, coffee mugs and CD’s and discount cards and appeal to your desire to pay for that value instead of the news/classical music content delivery’s value.
  3. Appeal to the listener’s altruism, desire to be thought well of or tax situation and try to collect on those values: i.e. donate and get a bumper sticker that tells people you donated and the kind of people you think highly of will think highly of you.

In other words, to me, the donation model isn’t really much of an option.

Like you said, you can sell stuff: T-Shirts, posters, buttons, stickers, etc. all of which appeal to someone’s sense of tribe and as social markers. However, again, that’s really shifting to gathering value from a secondary place (assuming that you view the podcast as the primary value) and you lose efficiency.

To me, unless the secondary value is very close to the primary, you’re going to lose quite a bit of potency. The reason DVD box sets sell well is that they ARE the primary value with some additional value tacked on:

  1. Commercials removed.
  2. Extras
  3. Asynchrononicity. Can watch a show that aired once a week at 8:00pm on Tuesdays in 2002 in sequence over the course of a single weekend.
  4. High quality video.
  5. For some shows, repeatability
  6. For quite a few, the sense of ownership in something they enjoy.

Because access to all of those things is really difficult to obtain without paying the $20-$100 season, people pony up for the value.

I think where to add value and to limit access to it to only paying customers is tricky and can vary for each podcast. For those that are timely, selling archives doesn’t hold much value. However, those that have timeless content might be able to get some value out of their archives.

For some, they may be able to put out a short version of the content for free and charge for the “rest”. That’s pretty much the free porn model. Air a 10 minute interview with someone and say that the full interview is in the “members” area. That only works if the content in the “members” area has enough value (just like porn).

Of course, the “because of” model, where you get consulting gigs, speaking gigs, “old” media appearances, etc. because of your podcast fits in as a secondary value as well.

Unfortunately, what this whole thing exposes is the difficulty in providing the kind of value that the market is willing to pay for. If your podcast is just another two-geeks-talking-tech show, making it members-only isn’t going to work because the market is flooded with competition who is offering the same value for free.

That’s also why the idea of “I’m going to quit my job and make a living writing novels” isn’t a terribly good business plan either, unless you’re providing serious value to the market in the form of really remarkable fiction. That’s because the market is flooded with, for example, thousands of really bad fantasy novels written by people who just want their book published and are OK with the $3000 the average published novel makes the author.

That’s why the average acting “gig” doesn’t put food on the table, etc. If you’re looking to do something that thousands of people are willing to do for free, you’re really going to have to provide some extraordinary value in order to make money from it.

That’s why building data-driven business software applications pays me six figures and my writing four. I can relatively easily provide four figures worth of value to the business community in Minneapolis in a year and can’t do the same with my writing or podcasting (really need to re-launch my show).

At any rate, I should probably get back to doing exactly that. Hope I didn’t just muddy the waters even more. I just had to write something because the whole “new media” circus strikes me as strange. In some cases, these discussions end up sounding like two high school students dreaming about how great it would be to get paid to play XBox all day. It all focuses on “me” and how I can make money doing what I like.

Unfortunately, that almost never results in the desired outcome. If, instead, you try to find something that the market will value that you also value/enjoy/are good at, you get a great alignment that can make you a decent living. But, if you don’t put both columns on the paper when trying to figure this stuff out, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

Thanks to J Wynia for these great insights and for letting me post these. Let’s keep this conversation going!

Looks Like a Dingo

Here Comes Koga
Dingo in the Wild

One of the things we hear all the time about our dog Koga is that he “looks like a dingo.” We hear this in our neighborhood when we walk, when we go to the dog park, everywhere. Imagine my surprise when I was reading my feeds yesterday and I saw an actual photo of an actual dingo at Gordon Smith’s excellent photo blog Look and See. Gordon was kind enough to let me repost his photo to flickr for ease of blogging. I present as comparison our dog at the top and the unnamed real dingo in the outback below. You decide for yourself.

People forget this and his name is never mentioned in the history, but Gordon was one of the very early podcasters. In something like August or September 2004 he was doing a daily several minute audio show to accompany these photos, akin to a commentary track. He’d describe the background of the place of the thing he shot, a little about how he took it, etc. I recall at one point he did 60 daily shows in a row, setting the iron man record for the medium at that point. He no longer does the audio component (to my knowledge) but I’ve been following his photos ever since. If his name is dropped from the history of podcasting, it isn’t because I forgot him. Long may he wave.

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Podcasting: Who Will You Serve?

There are certain debates in new media that I’ve had so many times that I end every exchange thinking that I will never get embroiled in that particular turdfight again. The “make money fast” end of podcasting is one of those I’ve sworn off many times, just like someone who quits smoking over and over. I believe by reading through these posts and trying to refine my reflexive umbrage I’ve reached insights I haven’t ever had, so what the hell. Let’s let it rip. Please bear with me for a couple of paragraphs before I get to my insights.

First, let’s cover the history of this flare up. At PNME 2007 my buddy Michael Geoghegan presented his talk “Selling the Unique Value of Your Content: Determining What Your Show is Worth and Convey It To Advertisers, Sponsors and Investors”. That’s a mouthful, and is what Leesa Barnes refers to as the “Podcasting is Dead” talk. I like Leesa and was interviewed by her for her book but I agree with MWG that you can’t get think his talk says that if you’ve actually listened to it. I listened to it the other day, and basically it says “If you want to make a living podcasting, you have to do a lot of boring business things.” That should come as no surprise to anyone who isn’t a complete gold miner, but to create a successful podcasting business you have to do the same sorts of things you’d have to do to create a successful burrito cart – invest in infrastructure and get your act together.

Leesa also says things like “And I’ve finally figured out the #1 reason why most people claim podcasting is dead and I must share this epiphany”. That’s pretty weak, to use “most people claim …” I can’t say I’ve ever heard or read a credible person making that claim. It is by inspection obviously false if podcasting is defined as “shows being produced.” There are more now than ever. If you mean “cynical opportunists aren’t able to cash out quickly without putting much in” then sure. We have people like Mark ‘Rizzn’ Hopkins who posted his disillusion with ad networks, which prompted a response from Podcasting News and a counterthrust by Hopkins. This brought on responses by Dave Winer about how he thinks you shoudn’t burden a podcast with paying your bills and Kent Nichols about how to make Ask a Ninja a business they had to do business stuff. OK, end recap.

As I followed the links and trackbacks in this argument, my low moment was in the Podcasting News article. I just felt very tired when I read this:

Podcasters Need To Take Responsibility For Making Their Podcasts Marketable

This was in response to Hopkins’ statement:

I set about creating some concepts for a couple of podcasts for Mashable, which frankly is the easy part. I spoke to Pete about them, and he gave them tentative approval, provided I could find sponsorship for the podcast at the onset. I gave everyone a call in the business I could think of to find a suitable sponsor.

My take is not wildly dissimilar from Dave Winer’s at this point. Much like Hugh Macleod’s “Sex and Cash Theory” says, I think it is a terrible thing to make your art bear the burden of supporting you financially prematurely. Like Dave I think that both sides of this argument are wrong. The idea of podcasters “making their podcasts marketable” makes me puke in my mouth a little. I think that is the exact opposite of what podcasters need to do. It’s certainly not what I have done in my show from the start where my lack of a definable topic, format or schedule defies marketability. However, it has for every single one of my almost 220 episodes been exactly what I wanted to do every time. I’ve made money in sponsorships/advertising, but I’ve actually made more money by selling t-shirts and CDs. Get creative kids, there is more than one way to shake nickels from this medium.

Here’s where my title comes in. Traditional media may pretend to serve the audience but really the audience is the product and the customer is the advertisers. They sell their audience to the sponsors. If you enjoy their program it is a means to an end, a way to keep you around long enough to sell your ears and/or eyeballs. What I’ve always enjoyed about podcasting is that the cost of production and distribution is so low (from cheap to nothing) that it is feasible to actually serve the audience primarily. This is the stuff of my PNME talks (2005 and 2006), that there is no reason to not just go for it. You can make a show as targeted to a niche audience as you can without concern for marketability, choosing to serve the listeners rather than the sponsors. The irony is that if you do this well enough, you can actually find sponsorship but of a very specific kind. Podcasting News seems to be thinking of marketability of a general type, being sponsored by Old Navy or the US Navy. That is service to the sponsors. The Mac Geek Gab is an example of a show that is of service to the audience. They have a specific type of demographic of technically minded Mac users, and as a result they have sponsors like Bare Bones software, not the kind of company that would advertise on TV or radio. This is the way it should go in new media. Create your show and be of great service to your audience. If you serve it well enough with a good enough show, you might actually find sponsorship that way but if you don’t put the audience first, that gets less likely.

Podcasting is a medium where the pitch is irrelevant. Just do the damn show and publish it. It costs little or nothing to do that, just a little of your time. If you aren’t willing to commit the time to do it then why should anyone care enough to commit money to you? There is no better pitch than a well produced show with an existing audience. That’s what tweaked me about Hopkins’ posts, the way he treats this medium with the power dynamic of a Hollywood studio or radio syndicate. It seems like 2/3 of the people in new media are trying to rebuild the same hierarchies the other 1/3 are trying to tear down. Don’t ask for permission, don’t pitch anyone. Find your passion, speak your mind, produce your show. Cynical shit might fly but that ain’t how the smart money bets. Don’t quit your day job and force your show to pay your mortgage. Do what matters to you and don’t think about the money until you have to. Take advantage of the strengths of podcasting and be agile. You can’t out-compete big media on breadth but you can on depth. Go deep, serve your audience better than the radio or TV ever could. If you do it well enough, money will find you. If your only motivation is making money, you will do a worse show and probably make less anyway. Serve the audience and not the sponsors. Why? Because you can.

Mike Huckabee, Theocrat

Here in South Carolina, there is a campaign ad for Mike Huckabee in which he says “I will put values above politics.” I’ve always thought that was a coded message to his supporters that was really said “I put Jesus above the Constitution.” That turns out to have been the correct parsing, because now he’s not even coding it.

Via Avedon Carol I found this article at Lawyers, Guns and Money. It’s hard to believe, but Huckabee actually made these outrageous statements:

“I have opponents in this race who do not want to change the Constitution,” Huckabee told a Michigan audience on Monday. “But I believe it’s a lot easier to change the Constitution than it would be to change the word of the living god. And that’s what we need to do — to amend the Constitution so it’s in God’s standards rather than try to change God’s standards so it lines up with some contemporary view.”

Mike Huckabee believes we need to change the Constitution to be be more in line with the Bible. Political reporters, are you pressing him on this? What does that mean, exactly? He will be in town this week. I’m considering going to his rally with a video camera, just to see if he volunteers an answer to this very Bible Belt crowd or if I can throw out the question and get a response. This is a very important substantive bit of information about a candidate, which matters far more than meta-political horserace strategizing. Help us out, here.

EGC Clambake for January 13, 2008 – “Getting it Together For One More Year”

Here is the direct MP3 download for the EGC clambake for January 13, 2008.

I play an uplifting song from Thacker Dairy Road; I talk about rebooting GTD and getting my projects rolling; I lay out why this show is the first one of the post-Bittorrent era; I talk about the endless podcasting advertising debate and why I think it is the wrong question; I play a song by the The Thermals and head off to get things done.

You can subscribe to this podcast feed via RSS.

To sponsor the show, contact BackBeat Media. Don’t forget, you can fly your EGC flag by buying the stuff package. This show as a whole is Creative Commons licensed Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5.

Links mentioned in this episode:

Update: It isn’t the most auspicious debut for a new method of publishing to screw up the very first file you try, but that is what happened. Sorry for the confusion, those of you who got the previous show labeled as the new show. Those of you subscribed via a client that groks bittorrent may get the shows again as well. I’ll try not to overload it all at once.

De-torrenting Begins

Over the course of this weekend, I will be removing the bittorrents from my site. It is going to be quite the pain in the ass, as I’m going to edit every one of the 200 posts with a torrent as well as its enclosure metadata. Hopefully PodPress will make this easy. I’m not that familiar with it but I am happy to get moreso.

In the process, I’m going to simplify all the feeds. When I am done, the one and only feed anyone should subscribe to is . One of the biggest mistakes I made early on in this podcast was not picking a single feed URL outside of any blogging software and using it uniformly without ever changing. I sure wish I had. I learned early on that using the built in WordPress feed as the podcast feed was very bad, as it requires WordPress to assemble it (and hit the database, etc) every single time a podcatcher hits it, which can be several times a day or even every hour for every single person subscribed to you. It is much better to have a static text file that is your primary podcast feed, even if you use WordPress to assemble it as I do.

I’m slightly sad about the end of the bittorrent era on this podcast, but not much more than that. The bittorrents have gotten less and less use for the last 2 years, and now that isn’t really a scrappy project fighting the power anymore, there is no reason for me to fight the power. It’s time for me to do some things the easy way.

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Inbox Zero

Last night I achieved the mythical “Inbox Zero” for the first time in four months and only the second or third time ever. It required some ruthlessness for sure. One advantage is that as you dig older and older in the queue some of the things have taken care of themselves or become so old they are irrelevant and can just be deleted. If you sent me an email and were waiting on a response, you either have the response or something got lost in the intertubes.

I’ve got enough things shaking that I truly want to be productive and organized so I’m taking another crack at GTD. I’ve already refreshed my Hipster PDA, now the emails are handled. This weekend I’ll work on the physical inbox. I hope to come out next week without a lot of legacy baggage and ready to just crank on some stuff.

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Making a Zune Holder Out of Trash

Zune Holder: Starting Materials
Zune Holder: Assembly
Zune Holder: Done

I’ve been doing a lot of video watching at my desk at work since Ken Kennedy was kind enough to give me his unused Zune. One of the downsides of watching at my desk is that the viewing angle is really bad when it is sitting down. Laid flat it is way to low and standing up on its edge it is too high. What I really want is for it to sit back at around a jaunty 15 or 20 degrees. I’ve been leaning it up against things but nothing really worked very well.

I tried to bring out my inner Maker to create what I wanted out of only materials available easily at hand. My original attempt was a pretty miserable failure. I tried to bend the cardboard from a cup of instant noodles into the shape I wanted. It worked for about 20 seconds and then fell apart. I tried to add a little Buckminster Fuller tensegrity to it with some rubber bands but it never really got anywhere and eventually I had to give up on that.

Today I was making a cup of coffee from our little instant Keurig cups, and I used the last one out of the box. I started to throw the box away and then noticed that the cut of the opening was very close to the angle I wanted the Zune leaning at. My original inclination was to use the rubber bands I had procured for the first shot to make some kind of cradle for the Zune to hang in. As I fiddled with it, I realized that the width of the box was really perfect for the Zune. It was exactly the same width. I was thinking about making slits, sliding rubber bands through and anchoring them. After a little thought, I discarded the rubber band idea. If I was slitting anyway, why not just stick a plastic knife in there? I measured the depth, marked where I wanted the back to sit, and made the two slits. The knife slid right in. I set the Zune in it to test the stability and it seemed to work fine. The viewing angle was just about perfect, it sat in there perfectly and I was able to work the controls. I think I might add a second knife towards the bottom just to keep the Zune in there solidly so I can mash the buttons vigorously without worrying I’ll push the player into the box.

Total time spent on this project, including the failed first attempt; about 15 minutes. Total cost of materials: $0. It was all break room trash. Should this one ever wear out, I have a pretty ready supply of empty coffee boxes to fashion future holders. I’m pretty pleased with this. Thanks to the crazy guys at MAKE for making me think in these terms at all times. “What useful things can I make out of the items I would discard?” is a good question to ask oneself frequently.

Update: When I came in this morning, the janitor had thrown away this Zune holder! Man, what a bummer. I made a second one this afternoon, this time using two plastic knife crossbars. It works even better.

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Again with the GTD

I’ve made several runs at implementing the GTD process in my life. It has to this point never rooted into my life to the point where it is indispensable and intrinsic to my days. Interestingly to me, despite my failed attempts I haven’t decided that the system either doesn’t work or isn’t for me. I still feel that the fundamentals of GTD are sound and that I have failed to commit fully and implement completely.

I know that my weak point is the reviews. I have never done them consistently, not daily and not weekly. My inbox becomes something much worse, a big messy pile of things I have procrastinated on. I am making another run at this and am tweaking my tools and procedures some. Reverend Dan sent me a link to TiddlyWiki, which has a GTD specific offshoot. The beauty of this is that I can write the page with all the ease of a wiki but easily also print out 3X5 cards for putting in the Hipster PDA. My goal is to use the Hipster primarily, and then at periodic online points reconcile it with my personal wiki. As part of my review, I’ll print out cards when the changes are sufficient enough to warrant it. I didn’t want to have a fully online toolset, but I think the hybrid model might work well for me.

The other gap this wiki should help with is my inbox. I kept pages in the back of the Hipster for my mobile inbox to capture bits of information, many of which were timestamps in podcasts I wanted to quote in my show later on. Over time, the mix of ephemeral information and things I wanted to keep longer became a problem. I didn’t have a good transfer system to match the useful lifetime of the information. I think the freeform nature of the wiki will help with that. As part of my interim daily sync ups, I’ll capture those notes in the wiki and scratch them off the inbox cards.

Of course, I’m not thinking any of this is a panacea. I know the weak point has never been index cards or web pages or anything else but me and my own discipline. I need to to better, I want to be more organized and a productivity machine. I’m undefeated and ready to go again. Let’s get it on!

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In My Second Month on Twitter, I Reject Your Commandments

I resisted the Twitter fad for a very long time. My sense was that it was just another time waster, high signal to noise and full of generally irrelevant stuff. I signed up about six weeks ago and found that while all of the above was indeed true I enjoyed it anyway. I’ve been a fairly regular twitterer ever since.

Yesterday Steve Garfield tweeted this link about whether Twitter users are “twits” or “twerps”, complete with analysis of what makes one versus the other and some mild chiding at which way is the More Correct Way to Twitter. It also led me to this other page of Twitter Ten Commandments where the mild chiding is replaced by full on pompous posturing. I suspect the latter link is deliberately provocative as a link whoring mechanism and I have just fallen for it. So be it.

I flatly reject the notion that there is a right and a wrong way to use Twitter, and that you must conform to these weirdly narrow set of rules in order to use it correctly. “Thou shalt not tweet more than 20 times a day.” “Thou shalt not tweet more than 10 times in an hour.” Really? We are expected to keep a clock on ourselves now? Wow, that really adds a level of enjoyment to it. “Hey I have something to say, how many tweets do I have left in my quota? Darn, I have to wait 20 minutes before I can tweet again.” Give me a break.

Even if I haven’t been lost already, he would have lost me here:

6: Thou shalt not forget that the question being asked is “What are you doing?”.

Part of why I resisted joining up for so long is that I seldom do anything very interesting, and I didn’t see what value constantly answering that question could have. When I did join, the very first thing I did was abandon that framing premise as too boring to consider. Instead, for me it is more like “What are you thinking?” which has a much wider range of possibility. My favorite stint on Twitter so far was in the runup to the holidays when I was posting tiny musings on love and hate and affection, getting really interesting responses in return. If my favorite interaction would have been precluded by those commandments, not much chance of me buying in to them.

In the final analysis, not only are they silly and kind of dickish but ultimately they are completely irrelevant. It is a completely self-correcting system. If someone is following you via their cellphone and you get too prolific for them, they unfollow you. If you stop being interesting to someone, they unfollow you. We don’t need all these rules because the system takes care of itself. Maybe for your standard neurotic SNS type user whose main interaction with a system is to collect a headcount via “friends” or “followers” that is anathema to them. Unfollowing makes my count go down, woe is me! Personally, just as I don’t care how many listeners my podcast has, I don’t (or try not to) care how many followers I have. I firmly expect that they will come and go, that I’ll do things to piss some off or lose them, that I’ll pick up other ones. That’s just how the game plays out.

If I were required to follow Phil’s Ten Commandments, I’d just quit the service. If most people I follow did, they would become less interesting. We have a freeform platform for human interaction here. Presupposing exactly what interactions should flow through it and how is not necessary. It causes more harm by making people self-censor their potentially interesting thoughts and is just dumb. Break the commandments! Be Twitter heathens! Phil Casablanca will get pissed off and not follow any of us but we can live with that. It’s like the elephant tied up with a string – it’s not the string that keeps him from running off but his belief in the boundary. Ignoring the boundaries makes you more interesting to me so let it rip!

YAP (Yet Another Possum)

YAP (Yet Another Possum)

Originally uploaded by evilgenius

We have caught a possum yet again. The count is getting fuzzy but this is probably the seventh one or so overall. We started hearing funny noises from the crawlspace last night when it got really cold, so I baited the trap with some canned cat food and left it. This evening when I checked it, we had this sucker trapped. By far, this is the largest one so I hope this is the papa or momma (I didn’t get close enough to check that detail.) It was released down by the river, which ought to be getting quite the possum colony by now.

Nicola Griffith’s New Novel Blog

My dear friend Nicola Griffith is performing her own interesting blogospheric experiment. She is writing a novel about Hild of Whitby and to aid in her research she has started a research blog about it. I think this is a smart move. By sharing what she learns, she attracts whatever community there is about that era of history to her. Since this is an esoteric subject, any suggestions brought by that community might be highly valuable. She also builds up excitement about this subject in Hild of Whitby fans if there be any. I just don’t see any downside and a lot of potentially valuable upsides. Check it out if you can. This is indicative of what our online future holds. Any time you want some information, you start by giving what you have. Hello, infotopia!

A Little Food Based Making

I’m a charter subscriber of Make Magazine, I follow Bre Pettis’ videoblogs for the site, etc. This may be more Craft than Make, but I did a food based Maker project tonight. Following a link provided by my wife, I found this guide to making bird feeders from stale bagels. At my work they buy us bagels every Monday morning. By the end of the week, we usually have some stale ones available. In about 5 minutes of work, I took a stale bagel, covered it in the peanut butter and seeds, and hung it off a broken coat hanger in the tree near our bird feeder. I’m planning on making another one tomorrow and hanging it on the fence at work where I can see it from my office window. I shot footage of the process of making it and perhaps I’ll post a short little vlog about it. The one I make tomorrow will use a bit of twine rather than the coat hanger. Now we need to see if the birds and squirrels like it.

Chris Ferguson on Running Bad

Chris Ferguson is far and away my favorite poker professional. He has a post on the Full Tilt website about how to handle it when you run bad. I think this is all good advice. I’ve found his bankroll management tips to be the single best advice for the meta-game. It’s possible to avoid situations that will make you broke even if you play horribly. This kind of thinking is some of the most valuable you can have in poker, and I’m very glad Ferguson is keeping it out there.

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