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What The Politics of Khashoggi's Death Say About Humanity

7 min read

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(I wrote this a few weeks ago, but it made me really emotional and I just couldn't finish it.)

In the past I've written about the privacy concerns of our surveillance world in an effort to illustrate the dangerous power we've given corporations and governments. To my horror, the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi has brought to light something more frightening than the loss of privacy, the failure of humanity.

Government assassinations are nothing new. Recently, Russia has come under fire from a number of countries for the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal. The CIA has been *suspected of removing (or plotting to assassinate) a number of leaders. In fact, in the 70s a Senate Select Committee investigated the CIA in regards to Patrice Lumumba, Ngo Dinh Diem, Rafael Trujillo, and Fidel Castro. Then there's Bin Laden, which there is no denying was killed by a U.S. strike team. What is new is that we live in a surveillance state.

Espionage is all about controlling data. Either protecting your own information, or obtaining confidential info from others, spying has always been about power. Using the information obtained, you can create a defense, plan an offensive, expose the truth or manipulate people. The information could be used to influence elections, for example. Extortion and blackmail are the types of things were often done behind closed doors. Exposing the information to the public is not as powerful as keeping secrets.

However, we now live in the world of Orwell's 1984. While many of us may not understand the technical wizardy around us, we accept the probability that a camera is watching. The cameras and microphones on our devices, plus other digital tracking systems used by Google, Facebook, Amazon, and our governments are also following the spies. Most likely, this is why so many people are ready to believe that Turkey has evidence of Khashoggi's death. Of course, they could have also bugged the building.

Power Over People, Not To The People

Turkey has chosen to use this information as leverage. This is the part I cannot stomach. I am appalled by this act. President Erdoğan keeps promising to reveal "the naked truth." The theory is that Turkey is releasing little bits of proof on a daily basis to strengthen it's relationships with the U.S. and other countries. Vice News reported:

A State Department official with extensive knowledge in the region told us that despite the rivalry between Turkey and Saudi Arabia, Erdoğan had signaled that he would be willing to quash the release of incriminating evidence at the right price. The State Department's official added, 'Erdoğan is playing this masterfully.'

Khashoggi was a human being, not a bargaining chip. Most likely you're reading this because you know me and occasionally stop at my website. Perhaps you don't know me, but have read something else here or on my social networks that made you curious to read more. Now imagine that connection between you and I being severed by my murder. The killer took my life because they overheard me saying I don't like coffee. My body was cut into pieces after being tortured and I was erased from existence. The one witness to the crime won't come forward because the murderer is her mail carrier. If she calls the police, she fears she will not be able to send and receive mail. In fact, blackmailing my killer allows her to now send letters and package without postage. My imaginary, and not very creative story is a gross simplification of the matter and sounds utterly ridiculous and awful. Why? It's called the ethics of reciprocity or the Golden Rule.

The Golden Rule is present in just about every religion on the planet, do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It's about compassion and avoiding suffering. Nobody wants to feel pain, ever. That's a natural human reaction. When we learn of serial killers or murderers that have taken lives unnecessarily it is unnerving. When our governments take lives during wars and conflicts, we focus on the end goal rather than dwelling on the casualties. When a government brutally murders a man and slices him up as an act of vengeance for words he's written, that is more than cause for alarm. When Turkey refuses to share the evidence of a human being's death in hopes to get a few more Easter eggs in its basket that is disgusting.

Desperate Times Call For Desperate Measures

Please don't lecture me on the minutia of foreign affairs and the economy. For too long we as people have looked the other way for some greater economic benefit. Well, we think you should treat your people better, enter country name here. So we've decided to issue you a stern warning. Now, if you could pass us those trade dollars. Thank you.

When is the government that represents its people going to start caring about humans?

Everywhere around the world we see decisions being made at the cost of human welfare. Trump's war against immigrants and their children, and the xenophobia in Europe is based on fear. People fearing other people! To answer my question above, governments will start caring about people when we do.

You and I need to set aside the past and forget about the future. We need to sit together, now. It's not about what kind of world you want for your children, but what sort of world do you want to live in? You and I can make those changes. I'm not talking about protesting Trump or shaming Turkey as my rambling post may appear. I believe we need to make changes at an individual level. Only by striking up a conversation with that person you fear, can you learn their story. That person is a fellow human. You can never truly experience the world as they have, but you surely have your own stories of happiness, sadness, and suffering.

Reconciliation between cultures doesn't happen in a meeting. It happens at an individual level and takes time. Rather than raising your protest sign to show support, extend your compassion to those in fear. Get to know their story of the suffering. If you're in fear, remember each of us is an individual. When I was younger, I was bitten by a dog. That event didn't make me steer clear of that dog in the future. No, I feared every dog for a long time. However, it was one individual dog, not her entire breed, not all white dogs, and not all big dogs. Fear does not have to be abolished, your lizard brain is trying to protect you. Understand that about those who are xenophobic.

Compassion is the way forward, not economic crumbs. The precious economy and the government overseeing it are made of people. Do unto others. If you have information that can end the suffering of Khashoggi's friends and family, why not offer it freely. Imagine, President Erdoğan, if you find success in this venture the precedent you set for your own life. Perhaps your game could backfire and MBS may offer a large, multi-year deal to the country of Turkey for you, dead or alive. Should we be bargaining with humans? I think not.

Patreon Problems Highlight Issues of Corporation Versus Community

7 min read

eggs in one basket

Photo by Natalie Rhea Riggs on Unsplash

All over the web, creatives took to social networks to curse Patreon recently because of failed transactions. The Verge reported that many payments have been flagged as fraudulent. In my opinion, much of Patreon’s recent problems have occurred because it is growing too fast, like so many venture capital backed startups.

There’s plenty of editorials around the web criticizing Silicon Valley and the get-rich-quick culture surrounding the web. The country club version of Tumblr, Medium has had a number of issues as it looked for ways to appease investors and the old dog in the neighborhood, Twitter, has always been in the negative. The currency of Silicon Valley isn’t Bitcoin, it’s us, the users. Show big numbers of signups and you get funding. Most new startups use the funding to expand the product and get more users, rather than really making a solid product.

As a Patreon user, I wouldn’t think the company has grown too fast. I sat through many monthly video hang times as users begged for the same features over and over. Meanwhile, Patreon kept hiring new people to expand. What were they doing? After a while, each video hang time included information from Patreon’s in-house data gurus. These presentations were to help users learn how to better extract funds from potential patrons, as in “Here’s what’s working!” It was also a bit of cheer leading to exclaim how great Patreon was doing. Of course, data is helpful for Patreon to expand as well.

Too Big

Eventually companies get so big that in order to solve a customer problem you must go on a quest through a phone maze, or Sagan forbid, navigate numerous automated emails to find help. To be fair, how else can you service 2 million users?

In my twenties, I bought a house and put on my big boy pants to look for insurance. I wasn’t finding the “deals” my parents spoke of, like when you have your house and car insurance through the same company. So, I started shopping for each separately. My parents warned me against the slick online companies like Geico and Progressive that were advertising such good rates. My father had the same local insurance agent for most of his life. There was a bond there. My dad could call up Vern and say that a rock hit his car windshield and Vern would take care of it without an out of pocket cost. I wasn’t going to have this familiarity if I went with Progressive, it would just be some woman on the phone in another part of the world quoting my deductible cost.

This is the problem of centralized internet companies getting too big. The humanity gets lost. I’ve had a brief conversation with Patreon CEO Jack Conte and I completely respect his work and vision. I interviewed another team member at Patreon and I call her a friend now. I have no ill will to these people despite what I am writing about Patreon, at the moment. I want them to succeed, but I think being a for profit company is getting in the way of helping people. The demand from shareholders to grow makes the product, and so many others like Google and Facebook, lose effectiveness.

That’s not to say it isn’t possible, but the current climate in the business world is all about more. For example, several years ago Facebook had already captured all of the developing world. The only way for them to get more users was to get Third World countries on their product. So, the company started making sim cards for phones. People in Third World countries could switch the sim card from their mobile carrier out and put in the Facebook card to access a version of the site.

Power in Community

Most cities, states, provinces, and villages were founded by like-minded individuals. The pilgrims came to the New World to accuse each other of being witches without the King interfering in their murderous behavior. Okay, that’s not a great example. My point is that the early web was similar. People who grew orchids got together on a forum site to share ideas and techniques. They may have had an area on the board where non-orchid conversation could happen and they got to know each other further.

Then, there was money found in the world wide web. We got America Online, MySpace, and Facebook. The orchid forum gave way to a more general gardening group chat. Instead of 400 orchid lovers from around the world, you got 4,000,000 people talking about weeds, basil, and hay fever. Instead of the passionate and opinionated conversation between Rosita, Cheryl, and Guillaume, you get a thousand people shouting just to be heard. The humanity is lost.

Communities are still possible online! We don’t all have to join a service just because our friends and family are there. It’s possible to share your pictures and thoughts on your own blog. Is it really that inconvenient to click on a bookmark in a browser? Nope. On Facebook, I am a number lost in an algorithm. On Mastodon, as a Trekkie I can join TenForward.social and share conversation with fellow Star Trek fans. Since Mastodon is built on a protocol (like email), I can also chat with people on other servers of different subjects. This way I don’t need multiple accounts for orchids, Star Trek, and my old high school chums. If I have a problem connecting or I want to donate to ensure the server doesn’t go down, I can contact the administrator directly. Seriously, you can talk to another human!

This is why I think projects like Mastodon are so important. This is the internet the way it was originally designed, information traveling freely, not through corporate silos. You may feel it is no different, either you’re under the thumb of Mark Zuckerberg or the administrator of TenForward.social. However, in one you are the product, in the other you are part of a community sustaining the server. If you don’t like the way it is administered, you can start your own, or just like a web page, you can buy your own Mastodon instance and make the rules.

Sustainable Growth

Of course, even non-profits aren’t perfect. LiberaPay, a similar platform to Patreon has had its problems as well. Though, it is interesting to note that the issues seem to be with the larger payment processing company, similar to Patreon’s many woes. Yet, LiberaPay may be able to weather the storm of discontent and problems because it is growing at a natural pace. Their 10,360 users may be easier to manage through a crisis as LiberaPay grows, than the over 2,000,000 users at Patreon.

Again, this is why I like the model of online communities. There could come a time when there are too many people or opinions on the Mastondon instance of TenForward.social. Perhaps a schism could arise between those who favor the new films and fans of the older films and shows. And so, a new community would be born, maybe Kelvin.timeline. The opposite could happen as well. Just as in the real world when a town grows into area communities and they join together to share resources, communities online could do the same.

Instead of going after users and numbers, we can use the web to connect to other humans, not profits. This is what many Patreon creators have learned. They started a community of fans and patrons who didn’t just support them financially, but interacted with the creators. The connection is what sustains the creators, not the simple number of payments they are receiving.

Patreon and the corporate sites aren’t going away, but you can choose how you want the web of the future to treat you. Do you want to be a commodity bought and sold by corporations, or do you want to be part of a community, sharing ideas and a common humanity?

Conflict and Compromise: My 6 W's

7 min read

Zuckerberg, Larry Page, and Sergey Brin

 

How strong are your beliefs and how do your convictions hold up when they are they put to the test? In other words, when do you compromise?


Standing up for what you believe in is one thing that people are doing much more these days. Whether it is not vaccinating your children, refusing to hire white men, or the recent attack on the US government for separating families crossing the border illegally, people are loudly fighting back. It leaves me conflicted because fighting isn’t how we accomplish things. Protests gets you heard, but the work is done through working together in a discussion.

War

As someone who is working on mental health, I read a lot about suffering. Many psychologists and therapists are fond of Eastern philosophy because various mental illnesses result in people isolating themselves. Thus, the Buddhist concept that everyone is suffering is a great way for people like me to see that we aren’t truly isolated. So, when someone attacks me for being pro-choice, they are inflicting suffering. The intention is not to get me to change my mind, but bring me pain.

But Chris, compromise doesn’t work with many people, especially if you flip the argument above. I’m pro-choice and I’m never going to get someone who bombs abortion clinics to compromise.

Good point. Violence works. Yup. No more babies died when the abortion clinic was bombed. Oh wait, anyone inside the clinic was once a precious life that was snuffed out by the bomb. So how does anger, conflict, and violence get things accomplished any better than talking? It makes our egos feel pleasure, but it never helps the situation.

Words

How about this, do you use Google to search online? It’s the best, better than the other search engines, right? How do you know that? For many, that opinion was formed through word of mouth. The options were Dogpile, Yahoo, Lycos, Excite, Ask, AOL, but after many years of word of mouth and advertising we use the company name as a verb, “Let me Google that.” Marketing is essentially just talking, and advertisers have us buying $1000 phones every 2 years because we need them.

There’s no secret cabal that meets once a year in a secluded location to discuss how to keep women out of positions of power and men from feeling emotions. The damage is done by the stories, words, we’ve been teaching our children for decades. Girls are delicate and boys are tough. “No daughter, you cannot play hockey, it is a rough man’s game. Son, stop crying and suck it up.” Words. We give them so much power. It should be no surprise that we use words in our own heads to start conflicts and fights. “Did that car just cut me off? No one disrespects me like that!”

Weigh

What warrants compromise? This is my current dilemma. More on that in a second. First, compromise brings us back to suffering. Is someone’s belief in pro-choice, Muhammad, Trump, the Redwings, cycling, or polyamory more important than their relationship with you? In the end it always comes down to people. Will I refuse to be your friend because your religious beliefs differ from mine? Will I suffer by staying quiet when the subject comes up or is it an opportunity for me to make you suffer by telling you how wrong you are? Can we talk about it without fighting? I suppose that’s the goal– respecting each other to have different opinions and beliefs.

Wavering

When respect comes into play we return to compromise. For example, my vegetarian spouse has a no meat policy when it comes to herself. As I respect this conviction, I cook vegetarian meals. She, in turn, honours my desire to eat meat occasionally. Her strong principles don’t prevent her from having dinner with me. Furthermore, she continues to be in a relationship with the carnivorous gas bag that I am.

My current dilemma revolves around privacy and data. I have no desire to use Facebook, Google, or any of their creations. Doing so is agreeing to how they use not just my data, but that of any of my contacts. My spouse told me to contact a hotel using their WhatsApp number. We were trying to book the hotel for an upcoming trip. This process has broke something inside me.

I need to book the hotel, but am I willing to install something I do not trust for this purpose? I mean, I am already on Facebook to compromise with those people who refuse to try other methods of communication. I use Instagram and Hangouts for a similar reason. So, I must not be willing to stand-up for my convictions about privacy and data, right? This is not a worthy cause to me, huh? Damn it, yes! It is.

Writ

Clicking the button to agree with terms of service in Gmail allows Google and 3rd party developers to read your email conversations which means you’re giving away other people’s privacy even if they are not Gmail users and never clicked “yes.” That box that you think is so annoying every time you sign up for a new trending service or app is a legal writ. And so, by using WhatsApp to talk to the hotel I’ve given my identity and my contacts to Facebook legally.

As an aside, both co-founders of WhatsApp have left the company. First, Brian Acton bounced to form a nonprofit focused on privacy and public good. “This isn’t just important for select people in select countries. It’s important for people from all walks of life in every part of the world. Everyone deserves to be protected.” Recently, Jan Koum departed WhatsApp, after the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Worthy

I think it is time to be more like my incredible spouse. Perhaps, I should treat my feelings about data privacy as she treats vegetarianism. Maybe, I would feel better about myself if I stop compromising to make others happy. While my simple protest may not change the world or these data giants, I will suffer less. I can feel good about my decisions and myself.

Over the years, I have found a number of great, open, decentralized services to replace FB, Twitter, Google, and more. I currently host my own Nextcloud to replace Google Drive or Dropbox. I have my own email address, instead of Gmail. I use DuckDuckGo for search. My personal website has been syndicating my posts to FB and Twitter instead of me posting those places directly (a function will stop working soon). Though, I have been spending more time on Mastodon for social networking and chatting with friends. The Twitter-like service is self-hosted by many people and regardless of the server you choose using Joinmastodon.org, they all communicate with each other. It is similar to email, it doesn’t matter where you sign up, or if you host your own. You can still connect with friends. There’s no trade off, your data isn’t being sold or leaked because there is not central authority or shareholders to satisfy.

This is not an easy decision as so many of my friends and family may simply put the onus on me to contact them. So, is this my depression telling me to isolate or a strong conviction? The best answer is to take the reigns and reach out to people through other means. I can call and text my friends and family. Why do I need FB to do that? Of course, I will miss their images and sharing, but we have email and other ways to share. In August, I will begin the process of being true to myself and convictions. Much <3

Fractured Part 2: Sparky, My Inner Project Manager

5 min read

Previously, I introduced readers to Chet, my personal internet bully. Today, I’d like to share another voice-- my anxiety, the frantic and frazzled Sparky.

Our human minds cannot be still by design. Curiosity about the world around us keeps us safe. Even interior inquires that alert us to aches, pains and the like encourage us to go to the doctor. However, in those situations where we are comfortable, in our everyday routines, our minds wander. Try to clear your mind and concentrate on the sensations of your fingers and palms the next time you wash your hands. It’s nearly impossible. My mind jumps from feeling the temperature of the water to what I have to do next in the day. Sparky has business for me. If I bring my mind back and truly feel the soap, feel one hand lathering the other, my brain wanders to the fact that I am practicing this because I am broken. Thanks Chet.

Being in the moment is difficult.

If it’s not Chet beating me up, it is Sparky telling me what I should be doing. “We’ll show Chet, today,” exclaims Sparky, “Get up early, exercise, clean each room in the house, apply for 4 jobs, submit 2 articles to our editor, get to inbox zero, buy all the Christmas gifts early, call your mom, go grocery shopping, pay the bills, fix the sink, paint the living room, and make dinner!” A sizeable list for a healthy person, but perhaps not impossible? Regardless, the point is that my personal project manager, Sparky, never lets up. There’s always something that should be done. Those things above that are not accomplished today, will move to tomorrow’s hit list. Sparky’s unending to-do list keeps pushing down on me like the world on Atlas’ shoulders.

Sparky continues to micromanage my days by chiming in at the most absurd moments. While I’m trying to work, he wonders if I am going fast enough. Sparky wants to know what’s for dinner. He’s curious about how busy the airport will be next month when I intend to travel home. How will I get to my psychiatrist visit next week? Where will I park? Do I need groceries for dinner tonight? Does that person over there want my table by the power outlet? Have I been in the café too long? Should I leave? When did I last get the oil changed in the car? Is there food on my face? This work is taking too long, isn’t it? My boss likes me, right? Am I too slow? Do you think my spouse thinks I’m too slow? Maybe she even wonders if I’m lazy? Her parents? And then Chet joins the conversation. All of this takes mere seconds.

“Nothing is worth doing unless it is perfect.” This is Sparky’s answer to combating the insecurity of Chet. Thus, when I get on the Sparky train, things don’t happen spontaneously. To appease Sparky and Chet, I try to plan my way to silence my mind. Doctor appointment tomorrow? Alright, I’ll wake up, shower, brush my teeth, put on deodorant, get dressed, do my hair, eat breakfast, double check Google Maps for the time it takes to get to the doctor, leave early to find parking, and bring a book to read while I wait. What have I forgotten?

“Do I have a backup plan for parking? What if there is construction on the way?”

“Oh, hi Sparky,” I cringe.

“If your appointment isn’t until 10am, what can we get done in the morning. And after!”

“It’s going to be okay, don’t worry.”

“You don’t really think that.” Chet’s criticism interjects. “You’ll mess this up somehow.”

This is the formula that quite possibly gave me my trademark white hair so early. I live in fear. The anxiety has, at times, spilled into paranoia. Without self-esteem, anxiety fills in for confidence. Instead of thinking “I can do this,” I torment myself with all the things that can go wrong. Even with the simplest of tasks, I move from one crisis to the next in my head.

Focusing on a task, is very difficult. These two voices in my head work together and yet against each other. My inner critic inspires the anxiety. Sparky’s desire to beat Chet with perfection only give the insecurity an opening. The constant reminder from the inner critic that I’ll never be enough quiets the anxiety. "Why try if I am going to fail?" My anxiety-focused project manager also encourages me to take on less challenges to preempt the self-hate and critique. "I can't do this."

I started writing about Sparky a month ago, shortly after revealing Chet. I had difficulty finishing the story because I wanted it to be perfect. I made excuses to to do “more important” tasks instead. I was afraid. Moreover, I work hard daily to not get caught up in the spin. As I struggled to complete this confession, I bounced from believing I have made progress to wondering if I was in denial. Am I shutting down in response to Chet & Sparky? I know that ignoring their voices is not the answer. I have to learn to accept them for what they are. Like friends with differing opinions, I should seek to find compromise, not avoid them. Chet inspires me to be a better person. Sparky will keep me out of dangerous situations. More on that in the final part of Fractured. Wait, did I just use the “should” word? Damn, this is a confusing journey.

A Direct Result of Our Sexist Societial Norms- The Born Sexy Yesterday Trope

2 min read

The following video from Pop Culture Detective Agency looks at a cliché in films that I never took notice of before. I'm ashamed that I didn't see it. Furthermore, there's some movies that I thoroughly enjoy in the examples. Sure these are fiction stories that typically play up the comedy, but the underlying trope is troubling when we think of how women struggle in our world.  For example, salaries between male and females have a considerable gap. Big Brother, Google, is refusing to collect wage data and turn it over to the department of Labor in the U.S. How attrocious is that? They know how many hours & dollars it would cost to get the information, but they don't know the salary of their 21,000 employees? Hmm. Before I go off on that tangent, I also wanted to mention that this trope discussed in the video is concerning when it comes to male masculinity. The idea that men have to be smarter or more capable than their partners is slowly changing, but not fast enough. Once again, I just want to drop those sex organs as a classification all together. We're humans. Let's just stick with that.

Yes, it's a long video. It's well done though. Search it on your Youtube app on your smart TV or something. Please, give it a go.

 

Depressed Me Coping With The Black & White World of Social Networks

6 min read

 

The last couple of months I’ve exiled myself from Twitter and Facebook. I do miss many individuals, but overall I don’t think those sites have been good for me. I felt like shouting my troubles into the void would be wasting time that I could be using to do something about them.

The thing that has turned so many off from social networks is the current state of the world, the bad news. For me, it was the good news that made coping difficult. Two possibilities occur when I read a positive post- I compare myself to those people sharing the good vibes and get depressed. Or, I believe those people are simply selling a vision to their friends & followers that depicts them in a good light. Now, I realize that both of these interpretations are negative. Yet, I can’t help shaking the feeling that social networks have become less helpful.

In the beginning Twitter was full of early adopters, people trying new things and sharing ideas. Someone would post a status looking for a good resource for teaching pattern recognition to a 6 year old and people on Twitter would pass it along until a teacher from miles away would answer. I don’t doubt these interactions still happen thanks to social media. However, the systems of Twitter and Facebook don’t reward helpfulness. These companies are after profit. Your request for math patterns may get 8–10 retweets or likes before you get the answer you need, but what if a celebrity posts a picture of themselves in a costume for an upcoming superhero film? That’s going to get millions of likes and views. That celebrity is featured in the “people you should follow or friend” lists and becomes an influencer on the network itself. Which of the status posts below do you enjoy?

or

There’s a culture of comedy on social media, everyone trying to one-up each other with jokes because they’re entertaining. Furthermore, a status post containing controversy is going to get a lot more traction than me describing my continental breakfast. Eventually, we can find ourselves in a race for likes, instead of sharing openly about ourselves. While I don't use Reddit that much, it is interesting that it is organized in categories, or communities. Thus, groups of people with similar ideas can share together without the cloud of other topics and internet memes. The decentralized Mastodon, is also fascinating because people are forming their own communities. Is there hope for the future?

So far, I've shared a very black and white view of social networks. Obviously, there are those people who are genuinely engaging friends within the service. Though, it is hard not to get caught up in the popularity contest because Google, Facebook and Twitter promote and reward that type of content. It was the same back in the early blog days. People shared a part of themselves online and found it freeing. Then, everybody used this bit of code to put a counter on the blog. "Look at all the visitors!" As the hits increased when something funny was shared, bloggers began to gravitate to those kinds of posts. The blogosphere was full of these who-can-post-that-funny-video-first web sites. The original content began to fade away as people wanted more hits.

Content on social networks is increasingly filled with retweets or shared posts from another source. While there’s nothing wrong with sharing, we seem to be burying ourselves behind these black and white issues, causes and internet memes. “I agree, Trump is bad. I will post this funny joke about him.” The thing that gets me, we live in a grey world, not a black and white one. You may despise the funding of Planned Parenthood, but be against the Keystone XL pipeline. Thanks to Trump, states no longer have to fund Planned Parenthood, but he did pass the pipeline. Do you post the meme supporting him or do you post the one against him? Perhaps, you could simply share your own thoughts?

I once saw a speaker who was discussing Hallmark cards. The company has a card for each and every event. It’s downright magic! Except, those cards aren’t for each and every occasion. The speaker said that they have a rule in their family, no store bought cards. The point is to tell someone how you feel using your own words. He and his family make their own cards for birthdays, anniversaries and all the other holidays.

I guess my point is that I can’t live up to a standard that isn’t real. I can’t choose to be black or white. (Look at my hair, it’s grey.) I wasn’t honest with myself and others and it sent me down a dark path. Now, I’m an open book and I need that from the world around me. I don’t expect Twitter or Facebook to change, but I may have to start anew or cull my followers & friends. Honestly, I’m not sure what to do. All I know is that I have been feeling less anxiety and much more healthy since I took my break from social networks. As I work on my mental health, perhaps I will be able to be happy for those sharing positive posts in the future. Maybe I’ll even share some of my own? Until then, my social networks will remain mostly quiet. Since everything is now based on those “popularity” algorithms, you may actually have to visit my social network pages to see if I’ve been around. If you really need me, I’m sure you can find me. In fact, I’d very much like that. Depression is lonely.

Everything's Fine

3 min read

KC Green This is Fine.

Quite possibly the worst thing to tell anyone is “Everything’s fine.” That phrase means absolutely nothing. People utter these words for a variety of reasons, but the definition of “fine” is so fluid that it can mean anything in the known universe.

At age 7 I was told “Everything’s fine” when I was out of my wits with fear of swimming lessons. What about that big presentation you have tomorrow? Your coworker’s advice is “It will be fine.” What did you tell your friend with the terminal cancer? “Everything’s going to be fine.”

How is that Google maps, an application, can direct us from our homes to the latest vape store accurately, but we can’t communicate with each other? Perhaps my mother should have said, “I know the swim instructor scares you, but I promise you that she will not let you drown.” Your coworker would have been better off saying, “If you’re that nervous, let’s see if a meeting room is empty and you can practice in front of me.” That terminal ill friend is far from “fine.” So what can you do in the meantime. Are you scared? Do you not know what to say to this person in crisis? You know what? You can say that. Your honesty is an incredible gift to anyone, at any time. Remember that.

In keeping with the ideas of communication and honesty, everything I just wrote above is my opinion. I am not a psychologist and I did not study sociology. It’s based on my observations and interactions in a world where men aren’t supposed to have emotions. The social world of North America that I live in seems so deeply ingrained with the idea of polite affectation that it feels like we, as humans, rarely communicate. Play your role, tell everyone you’re “fine.” Ask about their work, family and kids and get on to business. Don’t share your pain. Don’t share your struggles. Don’t. Do not share emotions.

What good would come of losing that polite affectation? How could sharing my burden with everyone serve to help us as a community? It comes back to the fact that none of us are “fine.” We are alone with our emotions. Except, each and everyone of us humans has those emotions. Sharing brings us together. Opening up to others means sharing the burden. Together we’re stronger. Even then, we will never meet the definition of fine which is “superior, best quality, excellent or admirable.” However, we can strive towards excellence as a bonded community of humans. Isn’t that the challenge of life? There’s no such thing as perfection, but together we can reach admirable.

The image above is a popular meme from the web, but it originated in K.C. Green's web comic Gunshow.

December 2016 Monthly Income Report

3 min read

In September I made this grand experiment official, “Let’s see how well I can transition to a job as a writer.” Keeping it real, I recognized that there truly is no such thing as “going viral” or “being discovered.” This goal will take time. I thought I’d give it a year or two. Now, after a few months, my resolve is fading.

December was a month minus my regular client that provided more than 2 years of work. I started editing images for episcura (link not guaranteed to work much longer). Eventually, I was handling the Twitter, Facebook and G+ accounts as well. Two of the three owners had the reigns of the social network accounts as well. They grabbed followers, bought ads and responded to some questions while I posted the day to day content. From there, it spun into me blogging for them.

The company, episcura, has decided to close up shop. While 3D artist do need HDRI and texture images for their work, it is simply too easy to appropriate pictures from a Google image search, rather than pay for quality work. Furthermore, technology advancements continue to make photogrammetry more practical and efficient.

As I mentioned last month, even though I could sense it coming, losing the gig was quite a shock. Thus, I spent much of the month in self-doubt and low confidence. I wanted to double my efforts with my remaining client, but my ego was too bruised to give it my all. December is a holiday month spent with family and friends, but it was feeling shame because I had lost what little income I had. The month is typically a busy month because firms are trying to spend the last of their yearly budget in order to get the same amount renewed for the following year. However with the last week of December a write-off because of Christmas, I felt it would be difficult to find a new client in the 3 weeks left of the year. Perhaps that was the self-doubt talking?

Monthly Summary

Those are some very sad numbers, indeed. I didn’t get a lot of assignments from my remaining client because they were busy with an art opening. I’m somewhat mad at myself for not running with the freedom and pouring some content out on their site. For episcura, I ran with the ball and posted one article a day, sometimes more. I think initiative and confidence go hand and hand, and I was lacking the later. I’ve done freelance for years and clients come and go, but I was really invested in episcura, so I took it personally. The bright spot in the month is a piece I did on a new social network.

Other Income

Paul is always there when I need him. My friend and co-host started publishing our past live shows and kept me busy with show notes and writing updates on our Patreon page. We even got together for a short show and talked about smart watches.

January began with a trip away from the gloom of winter. Hopefully the sunshine will inspire a better report next time.

US Citizen Moves to Canada So He Must Be A Criminal

8 min read

CAN US FLAG

September has been an awful moment for my wallet, not because of spending but because clients and employers can't pay American me in Canada. Previously, a client had me sign up for a Chase service which I connected to my US account with another bank. Chase recently decided to say goodbye to freeloaders, like me, who weren't doing any banking with them. So began a month of stress, frustration and absolute disgust with customer service, computerized systems and the US, in general.

I'm a US citizen, but a legal resident of Canada. No matter what I do, I always have to file US taxes. Every other country in the world, has you file in the country of residence. Not our beloved USA. Thus, I changed my official address at my US bank account to Canada. I didn't want to appear suspicious by having a US address and also claiming residency in Canada. My bank assured me that they were fine with this arrangement.

My US bank account is a nice thing to have for traveling back home to visit. It's also necessary to pay off my student loans. Thus, I was getting paid by my US clients into that account and paying my student loans. I'm very thankful that friends in my professional network have stuck with me and cho se to employ me despite the move to Canada. It can complicate things for them and they're taxes as well.

While my problems this week are somewhat tax related, it really just comes down to getting paid. Despite having these computers in our pockets, banking is still in the dark ages. Well, I should rephrase that. American banks are in the dark ages. The security of the chipped credit card just reached the US last year? It's been a staple in Canada and other countries for close to a decade. (Plus, the US chip system never seems to ask me for my pass code. That's one of the most secure functions of it!) We hear about fabulous apps to send/receive money like Square Cash or Google Wallet, but they're US only.

"Where's the problem? You have a US account."

My address is Canadian. It's like living in a post Y2K world, where computer systems were never updated to do a 4-digit year. I literally cannot type in my postal code. I cannot choose my province from the dropdown menu. And "Heather," Google's help desk person who obviously has English as a second language because she's most likely not working at the Google campus, cannot help me because that's not in her script. Indeed, another friend talked to a family member who is at Square to help me out, and it was also a no go. Many friends suggested Freshbooks. It turns out they're based in Canada, surely they can help! "When you add your bank account, just put in a US address, not a Canadian one." Why didn't I think of that? Just lie. I'm sure that will work out for me. "News at 11: IRS Finds Canadian Terrorist Cell Using Freshbooks."

Death to Stock

Meanwhile in Canada and Europe, I've seen a number of methods to move money across borders. Here, there a number of immigrants, like me, sending money home. Wire transfer services, apps and websites can move money just about anywhere. The exception is the US. Obviously, Europe has mostly open borders and these things are a daily occurrence with your neighbor. The US and Canada are neighbors, right?

The Tax Shelter That Is Chris

The reason I am having so much trouble is because I'm a person, not a corporation. Wait, aren't corporations people now? Does it work the other way around? Am I Burger King? Did I move to Canada to escape the evil US taxes? Well, since I now have to file for taxes in two countries, hell no. Yet, that's really how I am being treated, as a criminal.

The assumption is that I fled to Canada to escape taxes. It wasn't love, happiness or any other ridiculous notion. I'm a US citizen, and complete criminal element. The thing that really gets me about the whole situation is that we live in this weird, new sharing economy. Again, sharing is in reference to the peons, us people at the bottom rung. The Uber drivers are so very happy to make their own hours and a living driving a car. The execs at the top of Uber are still playing the age old capitalism games and could care less about the sharing economy. Perhaps young startups begin with the sharing ideals, but they take on shareholders and fall into the well.

Fees, Fees, Fees A.K.A. PayPal

Search "don't use PayPal," or the classic "PayPal sucks" and you'll find a load of reasons to steer clear of them. You may even find a 14 year old rant by yours truly. I had a falling out with the service and have never used it or it's partner in crime, eBay, ever again. Guess what? It does actually work in Canada and the US. Despite my misgivings about the company, things are looking brighter, right? Setting the past aside, no. Things are probably going to get uglier.

When I made t-shirts for our podcast, Cotton Bureau only accepted PayPal, but wouldn't let me connect my account. It was that Canadian address issue again. Damn me for being an upright citizen and not lying. So, I signed up for a Canadian PayPal account.

My Canadian bank account says I can get a US account with their bank in the US and move money between the accouts without hassle. Sign me up! "No, you actually have to go to a US branch and sign up." Shoot me now. Instead, I opened a US dollar account here in Canada. Any US dollars I put in it are mine, without conversion! So, Canadian account plus Canadian PayPal, but payments in US dollars coming to a US dollar account! I win. Except for all of PayPal's fees that I can't list here because they're completely obfuscated on their site.

Oops. I celebrated too soon. It's a Canadian PayPal account. PayPal charges a fee for converting USD to CAD and vice versa. They really want that fee. Now, my option is to get paid, convert the USD to CAD and deposit it in the USD account which means another conversion by my bank. Or take the conversion into my CAD bank account. Tell me again, how I will pay my US student loans?

My Money, My Future, My Loyalties

As a freelancer, stress often comes from clients not paying your invoices. This was a whole new level of stress, not finding a method (in 2016!) to receive payment. Now, I brought this on myself. US friends reading this are thinking, "You're the one that moved there." My Canadian friends are wondering, "Why not get a Canadian job and ditch the US clients." Well, thank you for giving constructive advice, fake Canadian voices in my head. That's more helpful than the brash statement by the pompous American voice in my head.

A Canadian job would be pretty wonderful. I do what I do now based on opportunities and who I know. It's not based on me trying to avoid Canadian or US taxes. I don't mind pay taxes. Even before I moved here and had this amazing health care. Taxes give us roads, services and all sorts of things. Even if you don't agree with how the money is spent, you still owe it, in my opinion. Since I live in Canada, I owe that money to the government here, not the US government that assumes I must be a criminal for moving.

This whole episode has me seriously thinking about my US citizenship. What does it really afford me, aside from this hassle? I have family and friends back in the States, but I could still visit if I had Canadian citizenship. In the future, will my wife and I want to retire in the States? It's an option, but it's not looking very good right now.

If you read this far, hello. All of this just boils down to a reminder that Canada is a foreign country. As much as people around the world, and in the US, assume North America is basically the USA, it is simply not true. I would go so far as to say, we're not even that neighborly when it comes to money matters. Really, it's the difference between socialism and capitalism. Canada let me open a US dollar account and I can send money practically anywhere. The US doesn't want money to move outside its border.

If, for some reason, you enjoyed reading about my financial woes, you'll enjoy my next blog series. Riding the line between stupid and brave, I plan to post monthly income reports as I continue my career change journey. I don't really look forward to sharing how little I make. Yet I think it would be nice for others to see, a realistic look at writing articles rather than a carefully cultivated social media presence proclaiming that I am a successful entrepreneur.

Tools to Ease the Switch from Mac to PC

8 min read

 

Previously, I covered some of my journey making the switch from Mac to PC this year and now here's some of the utilities and applications that made me more at home in Windows 10.

tinySpell

Seriously, what the ever-loving f**k, Microsoft? Why am I installing a 3rd party utility to have my computer check my spelling as I type in the year 2016? This functionality works across every app and window in Apple's OS X. Not to mention, every single smartphone on the planet. I just don't get it.

Years ago, I know that typing classes focused on speed and doing all the corrections at the end. However, that's just not how I work. I'm trying to switch this mindset now. Especially since Windows 10 supplies very little help. It makes sense that you continue to finish your thought, rather than backspacing, correcting an error and losing your flow. Yet, I still think highlighting incorrect words as you type is far superior than right-clicking and running a spellcheck application. You could still type your entire document and then go back to make corrections to the underscored words within the document, versus the extra steps involved in those clunky spellcheck windows in applications. For one, you can ignore the highlights that you know are correct, like brand names & products instead of having to punch the "ignore" button a dozen times.

I researched a few solutions and so far I have settled on tinySpell. This utility isn't perfect, the idea is that it uses one of those yellow tool tip things to highlight misspelled words, rather than the trusty underscore. I imagine this is a way for it to function in every application? Either way, I am somewhat happier with this installed. Unfortunately, the tool tip only appears after you type the word briefly. So, correct it now or you'll forget about it by the time you get to the end of this sentence.

Seer

I'm sure many of you prefer icons to descriptive lists, but I've never favored that. As much as I love being able to preview images and files with a click of a key in OS X, I didn't really set out to find a way to do this in Windows 10. I easily accepted defeat and tried to get used to using the file exporer setting which displays a preview of docs or images in a pane. This function pretty much halves the size of the file explorer window, truncating the details pane, but what are you going to do?

Then, I saw that a previous podcast guest, Alan Henry posted an article about Seer. Same as on a Mac, press the space bar on a selected file and get a preview. Boom. Color me happy.

Free Commander XE

When I was a windows user in a previous lifetime, I used Windows Commander (now called Total Commander) because I really liked having a dual-pane file manager. This allows me to move things quickly with only one file explorer window open. Total Commander and so many other dual-pane file managers also do FTP and have built in zip compression/decompression. This makes them excellent solutions as a file explorer and FTP application.

On the Mac, I used Forklift which did everything I needed it too. I even used it to rename thousands of images with a click of a button for a work gig. Currently in Windows 10, I'm trying Free Commander XE. Back when I was using Total Commander, it was a free beta. Now, it's $42 and the last time it has been updated was in 2015. So, I decided to try something different. Free Commander is missing FTP, but most of my HTML is still on the Mac. There is a beta of Free Commander with FTP and I can donate to get it after I finish testing this free version.

Launchy

Did you see that menu on Windows 10? And, that's after I did some edits and tweaks. (I should probably remove Internet Explorer's cousin Edge, because I don't use it.) Honestly, I rarely use the menu at all thanks to the Task Bar and Launchy. With a keyboard shortcut, you can launch anything you want. I'm loving this free thing! I've mapped the keyboard shortcut to my middle mouse button and that's how I open everything. Forget that terrible, nasty menu. The keyboard shortcut is ALT + Space and you get a nice clean blank asking for you to type a few characters in the document, file, bookmark or application you want to start.

Mailbird

Outlook? Yeah, no. On the Mac, I was using the great Airmail for my email needs. I'm part of the 1%. We're not rich, we just don't use Gmail. For Windows 10, I found something very comparable called Mailbird. The app is free with ads, or it seems to be heavily discounted all the time. The pro version removes the ads and gives a few more functions that don't appeal to me at this time. Of course, I've only been using it for a few months and I am tempted to buy the lifetime pro option to support the app. I feel like so few developers let you upgrade infinitely, these days. "Sorry, your license was for version 1, not version 2. Please cough up the $50 again. That's what is really tempting me, aside from supporting them.

Pidgin

When it comes to chat and messaging, I have friends spread out through many services. Apple's iMessage worked, for the most part. I use Slack for our podcast (you can join it by becoming a patron). I also have a separate app for IRC which we use to chat with folks during the live podcasts. On Windows 10, I decided to play it safe with an application that's been around for ages, Pidgin. I can chat with the old connections on Instant Messenger, and with my employers and wife who trust Google Hangouts. Obviously, using a 3rd party app for Hangouts means no video, but we don't have a webcam for the desktop.

There's a new kid in the game called, Franz, but the site was down when I recently looked at it. From the screen cap at the site I've linked, it connects you to WhatsApp, Grape, Messenger, HipChat, Skype, Telegram, Hangouts and Slack. It's an interesting combination for developers, but I don't use any of those services regularly. So I might test the Windows beta eventually, but for now, Pidgin.

Writemonkey

A recent OS X app find was the amazing Byword for writing. My co-host on the podcast, Paul, got me into Markdown which is just a way to format your plain text easily. I love it. Byword supported Markdown and is what I used (and continue to use on the laptop) to write for work, my personal sites and the show notes for the podcasts.

I poked a few different apps, but I really liked the look of Writemonkey because it was similar to Byword. Both apps convert my plain text Markdown to HTML so I can drop them on blog sites, fully formated with links. Kids, never write your posts, articles, blogs or whatever in the editors on the web pages themselves. Trust me. It only has to fail once for you to lose everything.

Calendar

This is where I need some help. Recent updates to Baikal have made it more complicated for me to continue using it. They had a package you could FTP to your site and it would just work, but have since discontinued that. Therefore, I would have to get a VPS & install the new Baikal with no guarantee that my current calendar data would survive. I'm not opposed to doing this work, but I've already got OwnCloud running for my files and it has a calendar. Thus, I moved everything to it.

The problem is, Windows 10's calendar app doesn't allow you to use an OwnCloud calendar. I haven't found many calendars at all for Windows. It would seem people are stuck using Outlook or Google. There's some workarounds and hacks to get the Windows 10 calendar to work, but they haven't been all that successful for me. My current setup is using Chromium (boo Google) to make a web app that connects to my Owncloud calendar at the click of an icon. Personally, I don't want a browser window open all the time with my calendar in it, so I would love to find a calendar application.

Function Over Form

You may have cringed at that Free Explorer screencap, or if you looked at that tinySpell web site. Hey Windows developers, 1998 called and they want their look back. I guess I should have posted a screen capture of Mailbird, which looks more like the Windows 10 style of app & settings window I showed in the last post. The truth is that things are not as pretty on the PC as they are on the Mac. Then again, if Apple spent as much time with the components inside the machine as they did with the outside, I wouldn't be switching at all. Windows 10 looks decent enough and I can customize those things I don't like. The 3rd party apps, well I can't change how they look on either a Mac or a PC. I've chosen function over form.