Thom on July 27th, 2015

There’s money in them thar Interwebs! The only real question is how much. People have been trying to figure out the answer to this for some time now, and a result, the means keep evolving.

One of the early methods was borrowing from the old “brick-n-mortar” business model of selling advertising space on your website. That could be fairly lucrative for really popular sites, but not so great for the average Joe who gets perhaps a few family members checking their site per week. And after a while the advertisers began to realize that the Internet offered more options than the physical world. Rather than throwing their money at a “virtual billboard” they figured out they could pay for just the people that saw the ad and responded. Pay Per Click was born, and even the really popular sites made less money, while advertisers could focus their expenses better.

I think iTunes was the next evolution–not so much in content delivery, but in paradigm shifting. Consumers used to buying bundled content (ie. CDs) for a set price could suddenly buy just the individual songs they liked for a much lower price. This also got people increasingly used to buying creative content online. Amazon helped, but only in pushing the concept to a larger audience, not for anything particularly revolutionary. They’re still primarily a logistics retailer.

But the latest generation of monetizing content is really starting to look interesting. Much of it I’ve only recently become aware. A few highlights:

YouTube: Everyone knows YouTube, and everyone has been using it to get free content. Evidently, however, there is a strong advertising model behind YouTube–enough that YouTube is able to reward content creators who consistently get the views. There are artists who are able to make a living posting content. And not all of it is entertainment, either. There are people who evidently make a living buying things online, making a video of the “unboxing”, and giving evaluations.

Kickstarter: This includes other sites such as GoFundMe and Indiegogo, but they’re all largely built around the same concept: define a project, set a goal, push for supporters to pledge money, and use that money to complete the project. The genius here is that supporters can pledge as little or as much as they want, while the project organizer can offer incentives to convince supporters to pledge more and to tell their friends. Best of all, if the project doesn’t bring enough pledges to meet the stated need no one pays anything. The down-side is that you still don’t have any real guarantee of getting what you paid for.

I’ve participated in four Kickstarters. One didn’t reach the funding required and I paid nothing. Of the three that funded, one has failed to deliver the promised product. One that did fund delivered as advertised, and the other I have no doubt will, as the author has had a successful project previously and communicates frequently on the status of the project. I’ve also participated in one Indiegogo that delivered as advertised.

Patreon: This site is similar to Kickstarter and the like, but focuses more on the content producer than individual projects. Here you can pledge a certain amount of money per content item, or per month, or who knows how many different configurations. Different pledge levels can bring additional perks or content. I know of one author who gathers pledges by the month, but promises to deliver a certain amount of content in that time period. He’s not getting rich, as his current funding level is about $50 a month. YouTube star Peter Hollens, on the other hand, accepts pledges by the video and promises certain things depending on how much is raised per video. At the moment he has pledges to provide about $7200 per video, though I’m sure he divides that several ways, as he uses professional videographers.

Deviant Art: Similar to Patreon, but more focues on providing a community for artists, this site deals primarily with graphic arts (I may be wrong on this, but that’s what I’ve seen). The difference here is that there are different kinds of “currency” involved. There are social “brownie points” one can use to give various artists encouragement and/or increased status, and then there is a point system that roughly echoes real money. You can buy points using PayPal, etc., and use it to buy downloads or prints, commission art, or support specific artists. Some artists can make decent money, and many use the site to supplement their income, communicate with their fan base, build support.

This are a few of the opportunities out there that I’ve noticed. In all cases, quality counts. Those who can provide solid quality content while presenting a friendly, consistent face behind their work, coupled with decent business skills tend to do better. Michael J. Sullivan, who ran a Kickstarter project I recently pledge in, is an excellent communicator. He interacts with his fans regularly through a variety of sites, so he had a pre-built base for his project. Peter Hollens likely gets most of his attention through YouTube, but has learned how to channel them to his Patreon account to get more direct monetary support.

But one thing some of these sites have the ability to do (if savvy producers know how to leverage it) is to build their fan base into a community that rewards one another by their support. For example, in Sullivan’s recent Kickstarter there were various levels of support one could pledge to, which provided increasing benefits the more you paid. But built into the campaign were incentives that no supporter would likely be able to accomplish alone. For example, if the project hit a certain level of support the author promised to improve the print quality of the finished books in various ways. Hit another level and everyone would get free ebooks of some of his other works. Hit another level and the ability to order special t-shirts would become available. To my knowledge no one shelled out the entire $10,000 to reach another of these levels just to get the t-shirt, but as an ad hoc community we collectively reached that goal, and all benefitted as a result. We weren’t just supporting the publication project, we were helping each other out and coming together as part of something bigger than any one of us. There was a certain energy about the whole thing. And Sullivan was always there, feeding that energy with encouragement, amazement, praise, and updates on the stats (we were, for example, the third-highest funded publishing project in the US when it all was done). It was…fun!

On the other hand, the one project in danger of not fulfilling its promises is an example of what not to do. They tried to communicate at first, publishing four project updates. But then…nothing. They have five days remaining to meet their obligation and, while I’d be okay with a delay if they’d say something, I’ve heard nothing. I participated in this project to help out my neice, who was involved, but I’m sorry to say that even if I still get what was promised I will not be supporting any more projects by that particular creator again.

It’s fascinating to watch how Internet business models continue to evolve. Of course we usually only hear the success stories, never the failures. My own blogging and book reviews as part of Amazon’s affiliate program has to date netted me exactly nothing. My brief attempt at an online store lost money (but helped position me to grab onto another opportunity in the brick-n-mortar world that has been a real blessing, so no hard feelings there). But I’m certain there is money to be made out there. One just has to find the right niche to fill.

Thom on July 24th, 2015

Admittedly that doesn’t narrow things down any. For the most part I can’t come up with decent titles for my novels. I come up with working titles that…well, work. For now. Until I can think of something better. Which I seldom do. This is why I need an editor.

Anyway, I’ve been re-reading the novel I finished toward the end of last year, ostensibly titled “The Married Minstrel,” prior to doing revisions. It’s an interesting exercise. The manuscript is better than I remember, but still pretty rough in spots. There are some definite near-brushes with competence, and there are places that clunk louder than a Transformer battle and will take some significant work to revise into something readable.

But all in all I’m pleased with how well it holds up. I’m also pleased to realize I have some ideas on how to make it better and fill in some gaps. It’s not missing much, but I think there were some obvious points I could have “punched it up” a bit and didn’t.

The more I think about it, the more I realize the manuscript, oddly enough, reads like something written in one-hour segments over the course of a year. The style is a bit choppy, and doesn’t flow as well as I’d like. There are scenes that flow really well, and some that scudder along like I had to drag a VW Bug with its parking brake set.

As soon as I finish my read-through I intend to go back and get under the hood so to speak. It’ll probably take a while, but it’s something I need to learn how to do. So far my revisions go to extremes. I either throw most of it out and rewrite it from scratch or I do little more than copy-edit. I need to get in the practice of mid-level editing, where I rework what needs reworked, clean up what’s still a little messy, but mostly leave things intact. Once I get that skill in my toolbox I’ll be a fair bit closer to being where I need to be.

But I still can’t figure out a better title.

Thom on July 23rd, 2015

I recently stumbled across a sales pitch on a website that made me do a double-take. Someone was promoting artwork celebrating the US Women’s Soccer Team, who just won the World Cup. Buying this artwork, they claimed, was a great way to show my feminist credentials.

Say what? I can only be supportive of women’s soccer if I’m a feminist? (It’s possible they printed this tongue-in-cheek, of course.)

Can’t I just be proud of their accomplishment? Women’s soccer in the US, as I understand it, is much farther along than Men’s soccer, and that’s even with a professional soccer league helping develop male talent. So…go US women! You rock! If I was inclined to watch soccer at all, I’d be happy to watch you!

But why on earth would I have to identify as a feminist in order to support them? It makes no sense. Or am I getting it backward? Does my supporting them make me a feminist? If that’s the case, I guess I’m a feminist. I’ve not particularly cared whether it’s male or female atheletes I’m watching–on those rare occasions I watch any sports at all. When I watch the Olympics I’ll watch whichever event they’re showing, and I’ll cheer just as hard for the women as for the men. So if that makes me a feminist, I guess I’m okay with that.

Or do I have to buy artwork celebrating women’s teams’ success to be a feminist?

If that’s the case, I’m not a feminist. Sorry about that. But at least I believe in equal opportunity. I don’t buy artwork celebrating male sports success, either. So I’m not a masculinist, either.

What I probably am is someone who doesn’t care that much about sports, male OR female. What would that be, a non-athleticist?

Is that okay, or am I adopting a risky label here?

Thom on July 21st, 2015

Occasionally life yields a pun so wonderful you just have to tell people, even if they’ll be convinced you’re making it up. This is one such case:

Our dog has been having some health problems lately, so we’ve been giving her medication numerous times per day. She’s generally pretty good about it. We just have to wrap the pills in bread and peanut butter and she’ll wolf them down.

But otherwise he appetite has remained poor, and it’s been a cause of concern. My wife called the vet yesterday to ask about it and only then found out we’d been giving her one of her medications wrong. It’s designed to coat our dog’s stomach and give is some protection against food and stomach acid. If you just give it to her in pill form it doesn’t have time to do its job.

No one told us originally, but evidently the pills should be ground up in some water to make a “slurry“. My wife asked if we can just soak it up in bread or something to give it to her and was told that wouldn’t work. The stuff tastes disgusting, so no dog would eat it. We’d have to hold our dog down and squirt it down her throat with a syringe.

Mind you our dog has zero tolerance for any medical process that involves touching her. And she just had surgery, so we’re supposed to be keeping her quiet and not stressing the sutured area. My wife was not too sure about the idea of holding her down and squirting stuff in her mouth. And sure enough, Sofie saw the syringe and immediately backed away. My wife couldn’t even catch her long enough to even try to pry her mouth open.

Finally she tried soaking it into a pancake and giving it to Sofie as she’d originally thought. Sofie ate it without any trouble at all.

So what did we learn? Give it to her in bread, ’cause that slimy, bitter slurry with a syringe is a flop.

My apologies to Mssrs. Rogers and Hammerstein.

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Thom on July 20th, 2015

This is cool and informative and cool…

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Thom on July 17th, 2015

My twelve-year-old son entered a local Pokemon tournament this week. The last one he entered didn’t go so well, and though he kept a positive outlook, he was clearly disappointed. Undaunted, he has been working hard since then to build a better deck and improve his playing. At our weekly Pokemon club he’s even gone so far as to befriend an older player who has been to the National Championships and challenge him to a few games.

This week there was another local tournament. He didn’t feel his deck was quite ready, but he wanted to enter anyway for the experience. I don’t know if he was nervous, but I was plenty nervous for him, especially when they began matching him up with older players (next higher division). Sure enough, he lost his first two games to upper-division players. But he seemed fine with it. Then his last three games were against players in his own and the lower division, and he won those. (It was the younger player that gave him the most trouble, to her credit. She took him right to the wire, which was probably the single most important experience of the night for him.)

It turns out that, while they didn’t have enough entrants to arrange matches within each division, they still awarded rankings within each division. He took first place in his age group.

Meanwhile I got to watch some of the matches and most of the players. My one experience with card game tournaments at games stores was not a positive one. But this group seems like a good bunch of people. The older players are generous and kind to the younger players, and even amongst themselves the older players seemed to take it well. Granted, it was an early-season tournament and not part of the “road to World”, so the stakes weren’t as high, but still. I’ve seen plenty of people take even friendly games way too seriously.

Anyway, my son handled himself well, and has a lot more courage and endurance for such things than I did at his age. Perhaps even now. And, as a parent, I’m glad to find a supportive player base that welcomes him in. I hope the future holds many more such experiences for him.

Thom on July 16th, 2015

I had just turned off onto the ramp taking me from one freeway to another on my way to work this morning when another car came zipping across two lanes of traffic and the paved zone between the diverging lanes to crowd into the space between me and the car ahead. I’m sure the driver congratulated himself on his ninja driving skillz. I was much less complimentary. It’d be much easier on everyone if he’d just remember his turn-off in time and not rely on everyone else to not do something unexpected in response to his doing something stupidly unexpected.

We rely significantly–even stake our lives–on the protection of the social contract, the notion that we will all cooperate and obey the same code of laws, written or otherwise, in how we behave each day. Yes, there is law enforcement, but let’s face it: there’s never a cop around when the other guy deserves to get caught. We depend largely on the idea that if I obey the law everyone else will, too. I won’t stick my nose in the way of your fist if you promise not to wave your fist in unexpected places.

Increasingly, though, I see people who break that contract, assuming that everyone else will still keep their end of the bargain. The learn to do whatever they want, relying on everyone else to act predictably.

But what if I’d been as reckless with that social contract? What if I’d see the idiot coming and floored it to cut him off? It wouldn’t have been difficult. He was trying to insert himself into a space only 1.5 car lengths long. I could have run him into a barrier had I been just as callous about his breaking the law as he was in breaking it. Or he might still have bashed into the side of my car, sending me into the next lane over and into someone else.

Yeah, it would have been his fault, but I’m not willing to risk the potential injury to myself and others. It’s not worth it to me to risk my neck, or anyone else’s, just to punish him. And so I continue to drive predictably, enabling this jerk to continue to break the social contract and pat himself on the back for his successful manipulation of the system.

But I wonder how long this can last.

There is an old joke that illustrates this point. A tourist arrives in Italy and hires a taxi to take him to his hotel across the city from the airport. The driver agrees, and off they go. Pretty soon they come to a red light, but the driver just speeds up and zips through the intersection, narrowly avoiding a collision.

“Hey!” the tourist yells, “what what you’re doing.”

The driver just waves dismissively. “Don’t-a worry, Senore! My brother Giuseppi, he does this all the time.”

Soon they come up to another red light, and again the driver just guns it and zips on through. The tourist complains again, but again he receives the reply, “No, is okay. My brother Giuseppi, he does this all the time.”

After a while longer they approach a light that just turned green. The driver slams on the brakes, laying a trail of smoking rubber all the way up to the intersection and plastering the tourist against the back of the seat. Completely livid now, the tourist yells, “What the (bleep) are you doing?! That light was green! Are you trying to kill me?!”

The driver just shrugs, “No, Senore, quite the contrary. My brother Giuseppi, he also driving taxi today, and you know how he is with red lights.”

It’s not just traffic laws. We rely on one another to act in a socially acceptable manner in all aspects of our lives. Often there are laws to punish those who transgress that social contract, but I think it’s safe to assume we’d all prefer the infraction not occur at all rather than hope the punishment can satisfactorily restore the status quo after the fact. In most cases the law does not restore the status quo. It merely acts as a deterrent by promising an unpleasant outcome for the perpetrator. Both parties usually end up losing.

But increasingly it seems the threat of negative outcomes is not sufficient to deter some people from taking advantage of the social contract. They’ll wave their figurative fist around recklessly, assuming everyone else will do their best to keep their nose out of the way. The rest of us bend over backward to accommodate them because having them go to jail for breaking my nose won’t fix my broken nose.

If they get away with it long enough, these social contract opportunists may even come to think they deserve to act this way. Even if they do eventually break a nose with their erratic fist they’ll simply convince themselves they’re being treated unfairly because “the idiot didn’t keep their nose out of the way.” Because the effects of not moving your nose is unpleasant, the rest of us continue to watch out for fists, alleviating the need for any responsibility by the fist-swinger, all while muttering to ourselves about the unfairness of it all and how someone ought to teach them a lesson.

When someone finally snaps and decides they are the ones to teach them a lesson it, more often than not, doesn’t end well for the one who snaps, while the initial violator usually gets off free as a bird.

I don’t know the answer, other than to make sure we are not the ones taking advantage of others. I just hope this trend does not grow. When the social contract breaks down entirely, heaven help us all.

 

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Thom on July 15th, 2015

If you don’t like religion, turn back now.

Boyd K. Packer, one of the leaders of my church, and someone we revered as a modern-day apostle of Christ, died recently. He served in the Church for more than the length of my life, but of all his various discourses, this one has perhaps had the most impact on me.

I bring this up here, however, because I have grown increasingly troubled by the willingness of so many these days to co-opt Christ for their own political gains. So many are willing to tell us what Jesus would have us do, even though they, of themselves, know almost nothing about who Christ is and what he taught. Christ has done much more than can ever be stated, and much more than most people realize. But his role as savior of all mankind is the most important–without it we are all irredeemably lost.

Elder Packer gave his address in 1977, and while I likely heard it at the time (I was only seven), it has has since gained a great deal of meaning and importance in my life. I present it to you as he gave it:

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Thom on July 14th, 2015

Most of the models of the solar system you’ve seen are…greatly abbreviated. There is a lot of space between planets, and our solar system is…huge. The planets themselves are quite tiny.

This is what I learned/recalled from this visualization from Josh Worth, wherein one pixel is about 3475 km, the distance from New York to Las Vegas, or the diameter of the moon.

So when we say that Mercury is close to the sun, we’re only talking relatively. I had to scroll over 10 screen-widths from the sun to get there. And that’s a mere walk in the park by comparison.

The only problem with this visualization is that it’s impossible to see the entire thing in one view, so other than the idea that there’s a lot of distance between tiny objects, you still don’t get a clear perspective of how big the solar system is and where everything falls within it. But it makes one thing abundantly clear:

It’s not called “space” for nothing. Or rather it is. Lots and lots of nothing. Squared.

In other news, the New Horizons probe is nearing Pluto out there in the middle of all that enormous space. I saw a brief video of the project team celebrating their success. My first thought was “Huh. Looks like someone made sure they all read the memo about wearing non-descript shirts.” Because it doesn’t matter how smart you are, how successful the project is, or how many women made a contribution, but whether or not someone is wearing a shirt that might cause someone completely unrelated to the project to make an entirely unjustified, rash judgment about the person wearing that shirt, overshadowing the accomplishments of dozens–if not hundreds–of people.

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Thom on July 13th, 2015

I’ve never been a fan of Las Vegas. That’s probably because, up until last week, I’ve only ever experienced The Strip. I spent most of last week in Vegas, but I got to see an entirely different side of the city (literally! The side south of McCarran Airport). For the people who live there The Strip is a reality, just like Temple Square is in Salt Lake City. We may go there sometimes, but it’s not something we get terribly excited about, necessarily. For the people of Las Vegas it’s an entertainment destination, not the stuff of vacations. They go there to catch the shows or dine in the restaurants. They know all the ways to get in and out as quickly as possible. They know when to avoid going there at all costs.

The rest of the city is largely…normal. Hot, but normal.

I don’t despise Vegas as much as I used to. It’s still one of the last places I would ever consider for a vacation. But should I get sent down there for work again I won’t be quite so negative. Except about the flight in. Hot deserts make for lousy turbulance. I haven’t been that sick on an airplane in over 25 years.

There are some good people there. Just knowing that makes the idea of returning much easier to take.