Category Archives: Internet

Amanda Fucking Palmer and The Art of Asking

 

Amanda Palmer is about to release a book called “The Art of Asking” which came out of her TED talk which in large part came from her experience of raising over a million dollars to make an album via a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter. I follow Palmer on Twitter so I’ve seen her agonising over the process of making the book for many months so my first reaction to the “it’s done, here’s the cover” posts was “well, that must be a relief”.
Straight after that was the thought “here comes the hate”. Anyone in the public eye attracts hate. As soon as you have something someone else doesn’t (talent, success, money) you get jealousy and hate directed at you. Amanda Palmer is a personality type that can (and often does) polarise people and both the pro- and anti-Palmer crowds can be zealous to a degree that seems quite out of scale for what she does. She has said plenty of things I don’t agree with but I’m definitely in the “pro” camp.
I was aware of her band The Dresden Dolls and her solo work, I liked the music although I never bought any of it. Then a few years ago The Dresden Dolls did a reunion tour and when they were in Melbourne I helped video the show. It was one of the most amazing live experiences I’ve ever had and I definitely counted myself a fan after that.
A little later, Palmer decided to use the Kickstarter platform to crowdfund a new album. The project was insanely successful – she set a target of $100,000 and ended up raising nearly twelve times that amount. It’s still the most successful music-based Kickstarter and it attracted a huge amount of attention. While her fanbase was hugely excited by the project (made obvious when the target was reached within a couple of hours) the backlash came quickly with a lot of people seeming to think this was some sort of scam.
I didn’t support the Kickstarter (I ended up buying a physical copy of the album later) but the negativity made me quite angry because it combined two of my least favourite things – jealousy and ignorance. I’ll never get over people saying crowdfunding is some sort of a scam, when someone well known does it they are somehow tricking their fans into giving them money. The pure ignorance required to make this comment is staggering.
Palmer’s campaign had a diverse range of rewards at different levels, starting with a $1 pledge got you a digital download of the album. How the hell do you call something a scam when a supporter can get the album for $1? The thing with crowdfunding campaigns is contributors are told what they will get for their money AHEAD OF TIME! Nobody is forcing anyone to contribute. People see something they want and think the cost is acceptable. That’s it. The only way it could be a scam is if the campaign doesn’t deliver what they promised. And that certainly wasn’t the case with Palmer.
I saw some criticisms when she gave a breakdown of where the money would go from people saying her figures for costs were “extravagant”. My first response would be fuck you, you have no idea what you’re talking about. Trying to compare an arts-related project to a bog standard commercial CD release is ridiculous. The bitterness and jealousy fairly dripped from the writing of these people. I imagine they are very unpleasant to be around in general.
My second response is those assertions of extravagance are completely irrelevant. That way of looking at the project is completely backwards! Supporters didn’t pledge on the proviso “you will only make x % profit from this transaction”. They saw an offer, agreed with the price and went for it. It wouldn’t matter if Palmer was lying through her teeth and pocketed 90% of the money in pure profit. Supporters got what they paid for and were happy. End of story. Unless your story is that you’re a bitter “journalist” who has never created any original artistic work and is insanely jealous of people who can do things you can’t. That story will never end.
I’m not going to link to any criticism of Palmer’s campaign (I don’t feel like giving them the attention) but there were a lot of jealous nobodies and some particularly clueless well-known somebodies who piled on. The twin themes of (unacknowledged) jealousy and wilful ignorance ran through all of the criticisms. Seeing the backlash made me think of that saying beloved by mothers everywhere that has more recently become quite popular on the internet: “this is why we can’t have nice things”.  I’ll never stop being amazed at human capacity to see the negative in any good thing that happens.
I’ve never actually run a crowdfunding campaign myself although I’ve considered it and I might do it in the future if I think I have a compelling project. In short, I’ve never asked people online for money at all. In the early years of YouTube there was a rash of what was called “e-begging”. Essentially, this was YouTubers asking their viewers for money in a way that meant (in most cases) the contributors got nothing out of it apart from feeling they helped someone they liked.
While nobody forced anyone to give money in these cases either, there were definitely some scams pulled and e-begging was a pretty accurate term for what was happening. Amanda Palmer’s “Art of Asking” story goes right back to when she was a human statue street performer and carries right through her music career to the Kickstarter campaign and beyond. It isn’t as though she’s perfect or even handled the Kickstarter aftermath perfectly – probably her worst mistake was not realising how perceptions had changed about her standard practice of inviting local musicians to join in on shows without paying them. But when I think about the wave of hate that is almost inevitably coming with the release of the book, I feel more than a little sick.
A lot of people don’t seem to realise that I’m essentially an idealist. I like to see people do good/creative things and try to look for positives in successful ventures even if I don’t like them myself. I wish more people would look at someone else’s success and think “they proved it’s possible” rather than “why did that rubbish succeed when nobody supports what I want to do?” I hope I get proved wrong about this but I don’t think I will be. For those people who have a thing against Amanda Palmer, I’m not saying you’re necessarily wrong in your grievances (she’s human and has human failings), but surely there’s a more deserving target for your hatred. I just wish people could be better.

 

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Metadata – how will the Australian Government use it to spy on you?

 

Metadata, what is it?
 
In Australia, most people are now specifically wondering what the government’s recently announced plans to retain metadata about the phone and internet usage of ALL Australians means. The simplest definition of metadata is it’s data about data. It doesn’t tell you all of the information that’s in a phone call, email or web browsing session but it gives you the parameters of these things.
 
For a phone call it can tell you the source of the call (the address of a fixed line or the nearest tower for a mobile call), the number that made the call, the same information about the recipient of the call along with the duration of the call. And some simple cross referencing will show you how often there are calls between those two numbers.
 
For an email it can show you the sender, the recipient, the size of the email (if not the actual word for word content), the format of the email (HTML etc.), the language used and the type of attachments if any. For web browsing it can include a list of the websites you visit, how long you stay on the sites and in all probability anything you download from the sites. The government seems to be trying to deny or downplay they will track the websites you visit but Attorney General George Brandis’ performance in his Sky News interview was so incompetent it’s hard to be sure.
 
So that’s the factual part of the post – metadata is a description of the data and give the parameters of the communication without providing all of the detail. It’s of obvious interest to law enforcement because it can help incriminate someone. If someone makes numerous calls to northern Iraq, regularly visits ilovealquaeda.com and downloads their instructions you might want to take a closer look at them.
 
Here’s the opinion part:
 
Malcolm Turnbull came out the day after Brandis’ car crash interview and said the plan wouldn’t track web usage and the head of ASIO made the same assertion. I call bullsh for a couple of reasons. First, I’ve worked in IT for years and any reasonable definition I’ve seen of metadata for internet use would include websites visited. Second, there’s no value in metadata that doesn’t include this identifying information – the idea that they simply want to know how long you’re on the internet (tracking the IP address allocated to you by your ISP) is ridiculous.
 
My one caveat to this would be if they were going to combine IP tracking with other surveillance they aren’t telling us about. This is exactly the sort of weasel talk I would expect from politicians – believing they can assert they haven’t said anything untrue when by any reasonable definition they are flat out lying. One technical way to do this is monitor traffic to specific websites then match the IP address of visitors with the IP addresses assigned to users by their ISPs. Hey presto, they know what websites you visit but they’ll continue to assert they aren’t harvesting this information from your metadata.
 
To borrow from the government’s “we’re looking at the address on the letter, not the content of the letter” propaganda, here’s one way they can spy on your internet activity with IP monitoring. In this analogy, the letter writer is a website, your street address on the letter is your IP address and you are you. This approach of monitoring IP addresses is the equivalent of monitoring and reading every letter a particular person writes before they send it. Then when the letter is addressed, the spies check the address and look up a separate database where they find you live at the address the letter is being sent to. In this way they argue they never opened your mail but they know the exact content of the letter you received.
 
The stated goal is to catch people doing bad things and they believe knowing more about peoples’ communications will help with this. The idea that they don’t want to know when people go on websites advocate radical and/or criminal activity is simply laughable.
 
On top of the fact they’re lying there’s the additional problem of it won’t help prevent any crime. This type of information can often help with a conviction after the fact but storing everyone’s metadata won’t help prevent crime. What prevents crime is good old fashioned police work – investigation and follow up. The mountains of metadata the government is talking about keeping is simply too much information to be useful. The police and spy services don’t have the resources, time or expertise required to make it useful. It will only be useful if they are already monitoring someone and looking for an excuse to arrest them.
 
Getting at least slightly glossed over with the focus on metadata is the other provisions around police being able to do much more without a warrant, right up to arresting people. Under these changes, if police don’t have enough evidence to convince a judge you should be under surveillance or a warrant should be issued for your arrest, they can monitor you or arrest you anyway. And if you’re one of those idiots who thinks you only have to worry if you’re a terrorist, Abbott has already specifically said these powers would be used for general policing.
 
If that’s what they’re prepared to admit at this early stage, how far will they actually go as time goes by?
 
Historically, police power has always been abused. This is not an argument for the elimination of police but it is an argument for oversight and limits to their power. Spying is worse than policing, by its very nature it is difficult to control. If people have the power to declare that something is in the national interest and top-secret, who is in a position to make sure they don’t abuse their power? Recent history with whistle-blowers revealing government surveillance that goes well beyond the law have shown that embarrassing a government invites massive retaliation. Manning in Military prison, Snowden hiding in Russia, Assange hiding in the Ecuadorian embassy. Exposing government malfeasance can pretty much put an end to any sort of ordinary life.
 
Even on a smaller scale, on top of the inherent wrongness of the American surveillance system, it’s been shown to have been abused repeatedly in trivial ways with operators regularly using it to invade the privacy of exes or even complete strangers they were interested in. And those are just the ones we know about. Are you going to tell me there aren’t some brogrammers out there using the systems to try and spy on celebrities just for giggles?
 
And for those delightfully naïve people who say “you have nothing to fear if you haven’t done anything wrong” you are living in a privileged delusion. You have nothing to fear up until someone in power wants to hurt you. And you don’t have to break the law for that to happen, you just have to represent something they don’t like. You might rightly think the current regime is your friend and they’d never do that to you. But nobody stays in power forever. Sooner or later someone who is fundamentally opposed to your views will be in power. And these laws will still be in place, but different people with different priorities and different standards will be wielding them.
 
You can’t get a clearer example of this than the number of conservative governments around Australia who have set up independent commissions to investigate corruption because they were (rightly) sure the opposing Labor party was guilty of all sorts of corruption. Then they get awfully surprised when the commission exercises its independence and investigates corruption among the conservatives. If you want to know if a law can be abused, imagine your worst enemy having the power to use it against you. Do you still feel safe?
 
If you’re still clinging to “I don’t break the law” just think “have I ever come into contact with a total douchebag in my life?” The police service, spy agencies and politicians have a disturbing tendency to contain a greater percentage of douchebags than the general population. If one of them has decided they don’t like you and want to damage your reputation they can trawl through your communications records until they find something to smear you with. And even if you think there’s nothing in your internet history that can hurt you (I think you’re lying BTW) they only need to create the impression of impropriety to do damage.
 
In these situations I’m always reminded of the words of Cardinal Richelieu – “…give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest man, I would find something in them to have him hanged.” If authorities want to convict you of something, they almost invariably will. Innocence is a matter of perception, not an objective truth. Sure, it’s brown people who have to worry most now but if you think this idea of government having unlimited warrantless access to your communications metadata is no big deal, you deserve what comes next.

 

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Richard Dawkins – arrogant, ignorant and wrong about rape

 

This week Richard Dawkins decided to show yet again that intelligence is no barrier to being an utter tool by posting a series of deliberately inflammatory tweets then acting surprised people were inflamed. It’s more than a little disheartening that someone who is obviously far more intelligent than me in pretty much every measurable way can still sink to unprovoked trolling like a pathetic 14 year old who wishes he could grow a neckbeard. I have no idea why he is so desperate for attention – does he have a book coming out?
 
It’s also depressing to see his slavish acolytes (who are also by and large quite intelligent) rushing to sing from the Dawkins hymnbook as instructed by their high priest. Yes, I’m deliberately invoking religious language to mock them. Because I know it will annoy them. And I’m childish. I’m not as smart as Dawkins – what’s his excuse for being immature? Seeing these people pretend an emotional response is illogical is annoying mostly because they are wrong. When someone makes glib and ignorant comments on a highly emotive subject, effectively belittling the suffering of millions, an emotional response is perfectly logical. Plus it’s exactly what Dawkins wanted.
 
But let’s ignore the emotive elements of the situation for a moment and just look at why Dawkins is flat out wrong. In case you missed it, he tweeted “Date rape is bad. Stranger rape at knifepoint is worse. If you think that’s an endorsement of date rape, go away and learn how to think” the he went on to tweet essentially the same thing about pedophilia.
 
It may not be an endorsement of date rape but it’s still wrong. The first problem here is he has declared that there is a measurable scale of the damage done by different types of rape (and that he knows what it is). This is the type of thing a follower of scientific method would say – experimentation, evidence and empirical measurements, that’s how we know what’s real. So what is that scale of measurement? Dawkins has simply stated it’s so with no research and no supporting evidence whatsoever. He just “knows” that it’s true. Does that remind you of anyone?
 
Now to the assertion that date rape is not as bad. This is incredibly dangerous because it’s a statement of ignorant opinion, not fact. It’s also the line of reasoning that results in 85% of these types of crimes not being reported – the victims feel they won’t be taken seriously (and more often than not told they “asked for it”). Dawkins and his pathetic fanboys will rush to say that it isn’t his fault, he isn’t endorsing date rape, he said it was bad. But words have power.
 
Talk to people who work with sexual assault victims and you’ll discover that the only part of that message that gets through to rapists is “date rape is not as bad”. Worse still, all too often that’s the message absorbed by law enforcement, the courts, the media and a disturbingly large section of society. Not accepting responsibility for the effects of your words is moral and intellectual cowardice.
 
It’s easy to feel that “non-violent” rape is worse than rape at knifepoint (despite the implicit violence of any rape) –it feels right. But such a rational thinker as Dawkins shouldn’t accept such illogical “gut feel” assessments. He should only make pronouncement that are supported by empirical evidence. So what is the evidence that victims suffer less from particular rape?
 
What about the woman who was “only” date raped but has their life ruined when they are rejected by everyone around them, called a slut and a whore and blamed for the whole thing? It’s much less likely to suffer that sort of treatment when you’re raped at knifepoint (but sadly, not unheard of) so this is some actual evidence that the repercussions of date rape can be worse than at knifepoint.
 
What about the person raped by a family member or partner who is then unable to trust anyone ever again or even see members of their own family because of the betrayal by the person they were supposed to be able to trust the most? It’s not uncommon for this to result in social phobias so extreme the person simply can’t live their lives among other people for years afterwards. That’s bad, isn’t it? And it’s a form of trauma not usually suffered when raped by a stranger.
 
What about a man raped by another man? When that’s done by coercion or by drugging someone (for example) rather than by forcing submission with a weapon, the stigma can be overwhelming. Men in particular are told they should have been able to stop it – the fact that they didn’t stop it when a weapon wasn’t involved means they really wanted it.
 
What about a man who is raped by a woman? The victims in these cases are rarely even able to talk about what they went through, let alone get help or report a crime, because of the high likelihood of them not being believed or being mocked. It’s far too common to believe a woman can’t rape a man and it’s even sicker to judge a man who has been raped saying there’s something wrong with him if he didn’t enjoy it.
 
Where is Richard Dawkins’ objective, scientific system for measuring the suffering of these people?
 
In simple terms, Dawkins uses the methods of his most hated enemies, religious fundamentalists, whenever it suits him. He just “knows” what’s worse, he doesn’t need any scientific or objective evidence. What’s worse is Dawkins has quite a track record of belittling sexual abuse, he simply doesn’t care. For someone who is considered to be a great mind, he has a really infantile need for attention and he clearly doesn’t care if it’s negative attention. He knew exactly what he was doing with those tweets. It was deliberately inflammatory. It was hateful. It was stupid and ignorant.
 
For Dawkins and his mindless fanboys to criticise people for reacting emotionally does nothing but show what awful people they are

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Potato Salad Kickstarter

Of all the things I ever thought I’d rant about, I didn’t expect potato salad to be on the list. Unless you throw a handful of green shit on the head. I don’t care if it’s spring onion, parsley or coriander – that shit is unnecessary and fucking evil.

What I’m talking about today is the guy who posted a Kickstarter campaign to make potato salad. His target was $10. He raised near enough to $60,000 as I write this, less than a week after launching from around five thousand backers. The campaign still has more than three weeks to run.

A lot of people are angry about this and they expected me to be angry about it. Why? A dude put something up that was obviously a joke and for whatever reason thousands of people were engaged by it. Like some glorious unplanned Dadaist prank, the world is paying some guy to make potato salad. Most people’s objection to the success of this campaign can be summed up as jealousy – even if they won’t admit to it. 

“I can’t get support for my thing so this sucks.”

“Why don’t people support a worthy cause instead of this stupid thing?”

Don’t ask these questions of the world. Ask them of yourself. And I mean REALLY ask yourself. This guy engaged thousands of people with a piece of whimsy but you can’t engage people how you’d like. Does the fault lie with other people or with you? Here’s a hint: if you blame other people YOU’RE WRONG! While I regularly bemoan society’s obsession with triviality, if you have failed to engage the people you want then you need to look at yourself, not lay the blame on someone else.

And if you’re saying “Why aren’t people donating to more worthy causes?” the question remains the same. If the cause is important to you, why can’t you make it compelling to other people? It isn’t the job of other people to care about the same things you care about. If you want people to support your cause, get out there and promote it!

And don’t use the cop-out that people won’t get behind meaningful causes. KONY 2012 engaged millions of people worldwide. Then it fell apart because the people behind it were dodgy as hell. But the point is, their campaign worked. Stop complaining about people who succeed where you fail – get out there and make your case.

This idea that you get to dictate how other people spend their money pisses me off. Where does that shit stop? “No, you can’t buy that coffee until you contribute to something meaningful.” Everyone spends money on something that someone else would find frivolous. Passing judgement on people for having a bit of fun makes you look pathetic.

The only thing that would make me angry at this guy is if he didn’t deliver the rewards he promised (and as far as I understand Kickstarter, nobody can really force him to deliver). When you look at the rewards, which he probably expected exactly zero people to claim, things start to get funny.

He has to say the names of thousands of people while making the potato salad (video evidence maybe?) He has to send out thousands of photos, thousands of bites of potato salad (how the hell does that work?) hundreds of t-shirts, hats and books. Oh, and he’s effectively invited hundreds of people into his house to watch him make potato salad.

If I was him, I’d go large with this. Get a local charity involved, do a “world’s biggest potato salad” type of thing. Feed it to the homeless. You could probably get a few celebrities to go along. Make it a huge event. He’d actually be doing some good (which would go some way to silencing the holier-than-thou whiners) and he’d have help with the logistics.

And without help, fulfilling the rewards would be quite expensive. He’d be very lucky if he cleared more than half the amount pledge. Mind you, that’s starting to look like it would be quite a bit of money.

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Farmville before the Internet

Having kids who are deeply into online games like Farmville can be a bit weird. The insistence of “I can’t let my crops wither” seems a little disconnected from reality from time to time.

Now, I get computer games. I enjoy them. So I’m not about to go on a “you kids need to get outside into the real world” rant. Although that’s not a bad idea. Just stay off my lawn. Farmville I avoid – I’m more of a Zombie Farm kind of guy:

Double Rainbow - so intense!

Double Rainbow - so intense!

My recent trip to the UK with my partner had many high points but one of the fun surprises was seeing a play set of hers from about 40 years ago that showed the more things change, the more they stay the same. This play set involves dozens of tiny plastic pieces that you put together to make and decorate a farm – Farmville before the internet or home computers!

Just like Farmville, with this toy you got a basic set that is designed to get you hooked so you spend money upgrading to more features and pretty things. You can move the components around as much as you like for many different looks.

They even provide a custom tool for inserting the flowers and other decorative items into position.

After playing with it for a few minutes we both wished you could still buy this in shops. I guess the addictive nature of this and its similarities to Farmville shows the more things change, the more they stay the same.

And just for a sense of perspective and scale, here’s my massive head next to the farm:

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Should your website have a flash intro?

When Flash first landed on the World Wide Web (we still called it that back in those days) it was very popular and it became common for websites that wanted to look “cool” to load a Flash animation when a visitor arrived at the site. The standard method was to force the user to sit through this animation to convince them of how cool you were.

As time passed it became widely accepted that this practice was, to use the technical term, totally fucked. Despite years of frustrated users screaming at the websites to get that stupid fucking intro out of their way and let them use the site, some sites argue that there are certain cases where a Flash into is still a good idea.

Maybe so. I’m a helpful guy. Really. So I’ve provided this handy flow chart for all web designers and marketing people to consult before they put a Flash intro in place. Use this and no matter what your product, no matter who your target audience, you will always reach the right decision:

Flash flowchart

Thanks to everyone for the overwhelmingly positive response to this post. I fixed the appalling typos that were in the first paragraph after they were pointed out to me.  Interestingly (to me at least) this post has also been translated into Italian: http://www.wafer.it/main/index.php?id_pag=52&id_blog_post=48

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Filed under Charts & Graphs, Internet

BlogTV Shenanigans

I had a fun time on BlogTV tonight. If the idea of interacting with me live seems like fun to you, you should sign up to get notifications of my live shows.  Or follow me on Twitter to get tweets telling you what I’m doing. Or not. I completely understand if this doesn’t appeal to you.

But we have fun doing bizarre things like playing 20 questions. And I do occasional rants. And people frequently convince me to do stupid things:

Dalek or dickhead?

Dalek or dickhead?

And there are sexy goings on like me rubbing my nipples:

I'm dead sexy

I'm dead sexy

Plus you often get sneak previews into what I’m doing if you tune into the BlogTV shows – I was showing off prototype t-shirt designs today.  All in all, it’s fun.

If you’re into fun.

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