Philosophy

Pages about slightly deeper thoughts. You know the ones. The meaning of life and all that.

2020-09-18 Programming

I just had an interesting conversation with @alpine_thistle and @polyphonic regarding the Raspberry Pi and how it wasn’t as useful as some people claimed it would be. If somebody tells you, “you can do anything with it” – then that simply isn’t true. It’s hard to do anything with it. Sure, you can use it as a small computer. But if you want to do a project, you’ll soon find out that you need a plethora of skills and tools.

To be honest, I used my Raspberrry Pi as a small computer for a bit – as a mail server – and as soon as I knew that I wanted to discontinue the mail server I had no idea what to do with the thing. Something about pins and motors and a mechanical tentacle that can grab stuff was an idea I had. I did not know where to start. It seemed like such a huge problem. In the end, I gave it away. The recipient hasn’t done much with it, either, I think.

I guess that’s why I’m a programmer still: when things get physical, I just don’t have the skill. I blame it on one or two miserable model plane experiences as a kid. Nobody helped me out, it was just taking forever and looking bad, so I decided all of this stuff was not for me. And then when you’re no longer ten, it’s hard to change… that’s been my experience, in any case.

Sometimes I fear it’s the projects-within-projects aspect mentioned above: when programming leaves the computer, the gap is so damn wide that programmers like me never attempt it and non-programmers wonder why the programmed stuff never meets their real world expectations. I think that’s why the Raspberry Pi got popular: at last, here was something where at least a very small number of people could affect the real world! It’s just that for most people, the promise remains unfulfilled.

We also talked about maker culture. What I find annoying is the reinvention of hobbies as ‘making’, with conferences to attend, magazines to buy, a new target audience for ads… the invention of a new market, basically. And all the people knitting, cooking, baking, wood working, gardening are scratching their heads… Are we bread makers, now? Clothes makers? I guess not because where as we have the spirit, the independence, the culture, the tools, the traditions, we simply don’t belong into the target audience for the ads. Which is fine! I don’t want to go to a maker fair, and I won’t be buying a 3D printer anytime soon.

Perhaps I’m simply envious because I think I don’t have the time to expand my life into yet another direction.

I guess I’m with @Sandra when she says:

My life needs focus. So I’ve decided to focus on everything except physical. That’s why I’m an artist writer musician DM programmer designer teacher philosopher psychonaut prophet poet aesthete semiotician. Because I decided to set a humble and limited goal instead of trying to do everything, such as soldering and 3d printing and such.

It made me laugh. 😁

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2020-09-11 Authoritarian regimes are popular

Recently, @22 linked to “Life in authoritarian states is mostly boring and tolerable” by Thomas Pepinsky, arguing that “Americans have an overly dramatic view what the end of democracy looks like.” Then it goes on to say that people have the same problems as in a democracy, and that they are mostly happy. And I agree.

I’ve often said to friends that dictatorships work because most people benefit in some way. I’ve had a Brazilian friend tell me how they liked the dictatorship. It was safe to go to the public bath after sunset. Salazar and all the fascist leaders are still beloved by many. I think people underestimate how easy it is to slide into authoritarianism; what they ignore is how terrible the price to pay is for the minorities.

If you’re lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, jewish, uighur, black, or if you own the plot of land a friend of the government wants, or if your business competes with a friend of the government, then you have a problem.

People often talk about Switzerland’s direct democracy as some form of “the majority is always right” and nothing could be farther from the truth (even if our right wing party wants it to be the truth). Protecting minorities and making sure they all have a say is the most important part and often not appreciated. If we can’t do that, then what’s the point, I wonder. Any authoritarian regime feels like a tyranny of the majority.

I often think about the motto on the Brazilian flag: Ordem e Progresso. Order and progress. Who doesn’t want order and progress? All the fascists are nodding. To talk about the drawbacks of rational authoritarian regimes is tricky and I find one of the easiest routes is the discussion of human rights.

Of course that same measuring stick can also be applied to many governments many consider to be democratic. If your government is democratic but human rights are being violated, what’s the point, I wonder? We need to change that.

To give you a simple example from Switzerland: we have about eight million people and of these about two million are foreigners. That’s because it takes so damn long for naturalisation to happen. Switzerland is criticised for it on a regular basis. A fourth of the population can’t vote in this country! I mean, that doesn’t mean that Switzerland is authoritarian, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s failing as a democracy on a different axis.

Comments on 2020-09-11 Authoritarian regimes are popular

The Vox link is currently truncated; the complete URL is https://www.vox.com/the-big-idea/2017/1/9/14207302/authoritarian-states-boring-tolerable-fascism-trump

Alexis 2020-09-12 03:30 UTC

Thanks, fixed! – Alex


Uh, not really. I grew up in a dictatorship. The crime rate was sky-high (especially compared to what we have now: for a good while this century, Bucharest was the safest city in Europe). And part of that was due to poverty. There’s still a huge difference in crime rates between parts of the country, and the correlation with poverty is striking. But also, law enforcement in a dictatorship doesn’t protect people from anything. It protects the regime from people, and largely ignores everything else.

No, life in a dictatorship isn’t safe. It’s predictable: you get up in the morning, go to your government-imposed workplace (they’ll even make one up just for you if there’s no work otherwise), get your salary at the end of the month (always the same amount), drop by the nearly-empty grocery store to pick up your food rations, and head back home to turn on the TV and hear how the economy is booming.

Which, of course, it isn’t. Dictatorships are never prosperous. They’re horribly poor all over, except in a few places where they keep up the appearances so they can brag to foreigners. But people would rather have extreme poverty and crime everywhere if that spares them from having to feel responsible for anything.

Felix 2020-09-12 06:31 UTC


Thank you, Felix!

– Sandra 2020-09-12 06:57 UTC


Every dictatorship and authoritarian state is different. The Vox article was about the American delusion that “not democracy” is “full on apocalyptic dictatorship” which sounds a bit like what you’re describing, Felix. The Vox article then went on to describe another state in the spectrum of “not democracy”, Malaysia. I feel many of the systems that disappeared and still have people pining for them without having been part of the immediate upper echelons of the government fall somewhere along this line – Salazar’s Portugal, the Brazilian military dictatorship, the communist regime in Eastern Germany, the communist regime in China today.

For Salazar, for example: «In 2006 and 2007 two public opinion television shows aroused controversy. Salazar was elected the “Greatest Portuguese Ever” with 41 per cent of votes on the show Os Grandes Portugueses (”The Greatest Portuguese”) from the RTP1 channel»

A Romanian friend told me similar stories about hardship and poverty (and the family’s eventual flight to Switzerland). I don’t want to deny the misery of these communist dictatorships.

I still agree with the author of the Vox piece, however: there’s a slow slide into authoritarianism and as the regime props up fake enemies, enemies to a religion, enemies to the economic order, enemies to the established societal order, and keeps up a basic working state, there’s no rebellion. People acquiesce and are distracted by daily life.

I also think an important part of the Vox article is to see these aspects in the countries that call themselves democracies today: if the system doesn’t change no matter who you vote for, if police and border patrols and other security elements have expansive powers, if widespread poverty and precariousness spread, then all of these are red flags.

– Alex 2020-09-12 11:11 UTC


Oh, red flags they are. As people have been pointing as of late: tanks in the street aren’t the first sign of a dictatorship in the making, but the last. And Americans don’t get it, as evidenced by their reaction to what’s been happening in Belarus. Which is exactly why they’re guaranteed victims in the upcoming elections.

Felix 2020-09-12 11:47 UTC


I’ve had a few depressing exchanges with @Shufei on the topic of the upcoming elections in the USA. 😱

Recently she linked to this thread by .

– Alex Schroeder 2020-09-12 13:22 UTC

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2020-08-12 Mozilla fires 250 engineers

In a blog post, Mozilla announced that it was firing 250 engineers: “Sadly, the changes also include a significant reduction in our workforce by approximately 250 people.” Ouch.

Then again, as @aral recently said:

We could fork Firefox and have an independent EU org develop it. No need for the rest of Mozilla.

The criticism stems from the fact that 90% of Mozilla’s revenue is paid for by… Google!

Or, as Katyanna Quach writes in The Register:

Mozilla gets the vast, vast majority of its funding from Google, Yandex, and Baidu, who pay to be the default search engine in Firefox in their regions. In 2018, Moz had a $451m cash pile, 95 per cent of which, some $430m, was provided by these web giants. Those deals will expire in November 2020 unless renewed or renegotiated.

With an ever decreasing market share, those deals are surely going to be renegotiated.

But, I guess what I’m more concerned about is this: think about how big Mozilla is. They had a thousand engineers!

What fascinates me about seemingly retro tech is the dream of having these tools be feasible in the human realm. People like us can use them and make them, without having to form a company, without business plans and lawyers and project managers. The web browser project is so big, so monstrous, it needs hundreds of people to get right, to implement all the features, because we kept adding them and adding them, letting corporations out-organize us.

This is what happened. We used to have so many browser engines. Now you need a thousand engineers to compete, apparently.

And yes, I know, this is never going to stop: people see business opportunities and jump in, and with venture capital it is possible to out-organize us, again and again. Welcome to capitalism. But there’s hope: the grim reaper that cuts down enterprises in a pandemic, in an economic crisis. When profits are gone, we’re still there. Gopher is still there. RSS is still there. Plan 9 is still there. Emacs is still there. (Vim, too.) Forth is still there. Email is still there.

True, a crisis is never the tabula rasa one might wish. Many companies are better off after the war. As @sqwishy reminded me:

Business are affected negatively but some few benefit; Zoom has almost become a household name for conference calls in the way that the word “Powerpoint” is used in place of “slideshow”. That is not better for tech.

And yet, remember IBM? There were huge. Huge! “Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM equipment.” And yet, here we are. IBM is a shadow of its former self. DB2 is still around. I can’t think of any other IBM product these days. The giants will come down one day.

The resistance is never big. In the movies, underdogs are the main characters. We never see the sea of people that’s going along with the system. The resistance is small. The resistance isn’t pure. I still use Firefox. I still use the web. But I use it less. I use text browsers when I can. I use simple Mastodon clients. I know IRC, Bitlbee, Brutaldon, Lynx and Gemini are not strictly “better” than the modern web; to my coworkers all these things seem very retro. But they’re my scale. I am not a thousand developers. I’m human scale.

Or, as @Shufei puts it:

Stepping back, I see I hardly go on the mainstream web anymore. Half of my Wikipedia reading is via Gopherpedia. Archive.org. Libgen. Git-tub. What else is there? The rest is corpo caca. And yet, that is what most people seem to like. Why else would they be on FB? I do think it’s time to recognize that what we have is a demimonde, a resistance, and invest energy in it accordingly. This is it.

Indeed. I still use Wikipedia on the web. But I also feel like I’m using less and less of the mainstream web. It’s all corpo caca.

If we’re the resistance, then we need to think in terms of propaganda. What are our posters? Our jokes? What new names do we give the things we like, the things we dislike? In German, we call this process “Wortschöpfung”, word creation.

Let’s not be coprophages, let’s not be dung eaters. We don’t want the corpo caca.

Comments on 2020-08-12 Mozilla fires 250 engineers

I’ve noticed this too! You know how with search engines you can filter out a word by putting a minus sign in front of it? Is there a way to filter out websites that have javascript from search results? Because that’d do the trick. Bye bye corporate top 10 lists of weird tricks, hello somebody’s weird passion project homepage.

– Anonymous 2020-08-13 02:25 UTC


I think that’s basically why Gemini is not simply HTTP1.0 with a simple HTML subset and no scripts: because you can never tell which links go back to the corpo caca web. Perhaps there’s an extension that unlinks the biggest corporate sites from all web pages? That would be interesting.

– Alex 2020-08-13 07:25 UTC


Sounds like http://wiby.me/ is what you’re talking about. http://wiby.me/about/

– Anonymous 2020-08-13 08:18 UTC


Wiby sounds very interesting! Thanks.

– Alex 2020-08-13 09:17 UTC


Good comment regarding standards growing in complexity. Whenever a committee meets to talk about new developments, there’s the danger of capture. They start adding features because they can, and everybody adds them because they must. And over the years, the number of competitors starts to dwindle. How many C++ compilers are there?

– Alex 2020-08-13 18:01 UTC


I really enjoyed this post! I am absolutely enjoying the longform gemini posts lately 🙂

– elphermVSbpm 2020-08-14 09:44 UTC


Thanks!

– Alex Schroeder 2020-08-14 15:07 UTC


“As a non-profit open-source operation, Mozilla spends as much as it receives; its 2018 staffing bill was $286m with a headcount of about 1,000, or about $286,000 per person, on average.”

Well, they’re certainly making more money than I am. But so do the Google engineers, of course.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-08-14 15:08 UTC

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2020-08-03 The rich

Today I had an interesting conversation with @natecull on Mastodon. It all started with a comment of his:

“Most inherited wealth gets floundered.” Sounds fishy to me

I did hear something like that in a (German) newsletter of a fund manager friend of mine. Basically: where are the inheritances of the Fuggers, Medicis, Rothschilds, Astors, Carnegies, Rockefellers and Vanderbilts? When 120 heirs of Cornelius Vanderbiltim met in 1973, they had not one millionaire among them. There are still some rich Rockefellers and Rothschilds but they don’t compare with the fortunes of their ancestors.

He cites Robert Arnott, William Bernstein and Lillian Wu who looked at the richest people since 1982 based on the Forbes 400 and a study by Kevin Phillips of the richest US families going back to 1918. A simple look at the richest 400 in 1982 shows that only 69 of them or their heirs remain in the list from 2014. The problem is that the newly rich are so much richer you cannot compete by simply keeping your inheritance intact. In 1982 you needed $75M to be in the list, in 2014 you needed $1.5B, corrected for inflation that is eight times as much. The newcomers are simply so much richer, and maintaining wealth with investments is hard, plus you get to split it up with every generation.

Not that any of this is of any import to all of us that aren’t wealthy. It’s an interesting side note, but also pretty irrelevant when it comes to politics. Tax those fuckers!

My main takeaway was this: we actually have two problems: in the mid-term, the children of rich people are still rich and have tons of unfair advantages; and even if these dynasties are not a problem in the long term, the shooting stars of the ultra-rich still are a problem, but combating them is (surprisingly) not simply solved by stiff inheritance tax.

There is an additional problem, unfortunately: the way capital (rich people and big companies) capture politics. If you look at Switzerland, for example, you’ll see that the health commission in our senate has 13 members, and most of them have connections to hospitals, insurances, etc. One the one hand, it’s obvious: if you have the know how, why not volunteer for such a commission? But at the same time: this is the industry using politics to shape legislation such as to drive profit.

Some people think politics enables these companies to flourish, but now they’re no longer competing, they’re using politics to shape the market. It is a corrupting influence.

So, as seen from the left, some people clamour for a revolution. How else are we going to get rid of these rich people and redistribute their wealth? We can’t even enact laws to bring back inheritance tax, here in Switzerland! In our collective race to the bottom, we got rid of it, as the cantons try to out-compete each other for the lowest taxes in order to attract the richest people, which then in turn threaten to capture local government.

But… revolutions are dangerous. Who’s to say that things are better after the revolution? When we point at the Soviet or Chinese revolution, people like me say: “that wasn’t true communism!” There’s also the historic comparison made by the Chinese and Soviet communists: perhaps those years were bad, but consider the slavery, the robber barons, the civil wars, the crop failures and the famines before we came to power! Those arguments seem to get less traction these days, however. In any case, I think calling for a revolution is simply a way to start the discussion. I don’t want a violent revolution. We need to argue for incremental change instead of a revolution. Who knows who’ll win the revolution roulette! Not me, that’s for sure.

My guess is that just like people on the left believe in some pure-hearted do-gooder humans who’ll share gladly, the right believes in some pure-hearted market full of fully knowledgeable humans who’ll always trade fairly… Or something! Idealists, wherever you look.

I think we need small changes, and part of that is higher taxes. Much higher taxes! And since people and capital moves around, trying to evade taxes, we need to make a global effort: go after tax havens, put political pressure on them, go after rich people trying to leave a country. Luckily many of the newly rich don’t know they’re going to make big bucks later in life so they make their fortune while still in a country where they can be taxed.

I know the edge cases are painful. It’s painful to pay taxes in both Switzerland and the United States. It’s painful to have lived and worked in Japan and owing them inheritance tax if you don’t live there anymore. Those solutions aren’t perfect. But capital and people flowing freely, extracting wealth in one country and then not sharing the burden according to your means is simply ripping people off.

And don’t come at me with “tax is theft” – who ever thought of such stupid slogan? If you read up on the history of the idea, you’ll see that it always seems to boil down to a philosophical dispute of natural rights, social contracts, and so on. The practicalities of a functioning society doesn’t seem to have a place in this discussion which is also why I don’t care for it.

Where does that leave us? I think the answer is the very constant struggle we’re experience now and have been experiencing since the dawn of democracy. Our enemies decry it as a weakness, but that is just because they have chosen Scylla or Charybdis, unable to maintain their course. And of course, both Scylla and Charybdis and their adherents scream the loudest. But we must stuff our ears with wax and struggle for that blissful compromise, of a free market but with rules, of private property but with taxes. We win!

Comments on 2020-08-03 The rich

Steuern sind ok. Ich würde versuchen, sie einfach zu halten, auch damit nicht viel „unproduktive Energie“ gebunden wird. Aber es gibt auch Argumente für sehr komplexe Steuern, die alle Spezialfälle abdecken.

Schön ist es natürlich, wenn einem der Staat/die Gemeinde soviel bietet, das man es als irgendwie angemessen empfindet. Steuern einer korrupten Behörde zu zahlen ist wohl ein zyklisches und schwer zu knackendes Problem.

– Chris 2020-08-10 20:24 UTC


Das stimmt. Wobei es ja für die Umverteilung um mehr geht, als den Staat und die Gemeinde für ihre Leistung angemessen zu entschädigen: selbst wenn Staat und Gemeinde nichts leisten würden, ist eine Umverteilung nötig um der Kapitalakkumulation entgegen zu wirken, und die einfachste Lösung hierfür ist eine progressive Steuer, die man in extremis sogar einfach im Rahmen eines Grundeinkommens umverteilen könnte. Selbst ohne eine korrupte Behörde nicht einfach durchzusetzen, aber die Alternative scheint mir noch unerträglicher: Elend und am Ende Revolution oder Krieg.

– Alex 2020-08-11 16:26 UTC


Ja, Umverteilung ist auch ein Element! Ich sehe hier einerseits die Staatsquote und anderseits, was man mit dem Geld macht. In vielen armen Ländern ist beides nicht so toll; es ist zum Weinen... (Bei reichen Länder gibt es natürlich auch zu tun.)

Ein vertracktes Problem scheint mir, dass Umverteilung aktuell fast nur national geschieht: Gewisse Wohlhabenden und gewisse „national Armen“ scheinen das gemeinsame, unausgesprochene, krude Ziel zu haben, die international Armen nicht zu beteiligen.

– Chris 2020-08-12 19:02 UTC


Absolut. Wir sehen ja schon in der Schweiz das Problem mit dem Finanzausgleich: die Kantone haben einen eigenen Steuerfuss, müssen sich dann aber unabhängig davon am Finanzausgleich beteiligen. Gibt Streit. In der europäischen Union wird es schon schwieriger. Und ausserhalb davon... gibt es nichts. Ein Elend!

– Alex 2020-08-12 20:36 UTC

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2020-07-04 Is Gemini from North Korea?

I was hanging out on the #gemini channel on irc.tilde.chat and people noticed that Hacker News was talking about Gemini, and this got posted in a thread about a toffelblog post, A look at the Gemini protocol: a brutally simple alternative to the web.

lukee: another juicy quote from HN to entertain you “In a way Gemini could have been published by writer of European Union, North Korea or Soviet Union laws, I can’t belive this is a US products, as it contains too much to liberty constrain 😉 “

There’s more in that Hacker News thread. I don’t know what to say. How do you respond to somebody who says that there is something in common between the European Union, North Korea, the Soviet Union, and the Gemini protocol? It’s a waste of time. So how about something different... How about imagining this being a good response! How could we rephrase it and have an interesting conversation?

How about translating it into “Why is minimalism a thing? Why does it have to be mandated? Minimalism in the web has meaning because you can do otherwise. Brutalism in architecture because you could be hiding it all. The decision to show that concrete only has meaning because you could be hiding it. To mandate minimalism is simply to mandate poverty. It has no meaning.”

So, let’s imagine that; let’s reply to this imagined intelligent challenge, and hope for a good conversation.

I think the first question would be: who does the choosing? In a world where we all use the web, some authors can choose to use minimalism in web design: little CSS, simple HTML, no Javascript, no content from other domains, a focus on documents instead of imagining the web as a generic interface to all applications. It’s possible to do. The choice lies with the web author.

The choice does not lie with the reader, though! The reader who tries to surf the web with text browsers such as w3m, lynx, or eww, or with very limited browsers such as dillo, soon runs into problems. Sometimes the text itself can be read, but interaction is difficult. Headers and footers are often terrible. The list of links at the top of pages is terribly long and messy. It’s hard to find the text of a tweet if you visit the URL on Twitter. There’s too much garbage on that page! It’s also hard to find the beginning of that README if you visit a project’s page on GitHub. So many links!

The choice also does not lie with developers, surprisingly. The developer who tries to create a different browser, the developer who tries to extend HTML, the developer who tries to extend Javascript, all developers on the web soon realise that everything is fucking huge. The code base for Firefox is huge. The code base for Chromium is huge. The number of web standards is huge. The Javascript APIs are huge. The number of open issues in the bug trackers is huge. The Mozilla Developer Network (MDN) wiki is huge. Even the processes one has to follow to propose new things are huge. The hoops one has to jump through to propose new Emojis for Unicode.

And how much weight there is to all these things. How much business, money, capital, investments, jobs. Unicode is going to be forever and ever as long as we use text, I think. All those stupid pictures of technology that we no longer use are going to stay with us for the next ten thousand years. It boggles the mind.

Therefore, individual developers effectively have no choice. The number of people and the amount of capital required to create a new fully-featured web browser is unimaginable.

That’s why people like @alcinnz working on the Odysseus browser have very specific opinions on what to implement and what to drop.

That is why Gemini matters. Gemini allows many developers to write clients and servers. It gives users back choice.

I’d love to read your take on it.

Here’s what I’ve found so far:

@solderpunk wrote Why not just use a subset of HTTP and HTML?

“… to create a clearly demarcated space where people can go to consume only that kind of content in only that kind of way, which is what I think we really want.”

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2020-06-15 Why Wiki‽

Indeed, why? I’m writing this because I want a wiki and I’m interested in Gemini and I’ve read some things on the mailing list that make me think other people don’t love wiki as much as I do. (Start with Sean Conner’s post if you’re interested. Some quotes from that thread can be found in the comments on 2020-06-04 Gemini Upload.)

Some people think that we should all self-host the things we write. This is a good idea. We don’t want to depend on faceless corporations that can take away our online presence on a whim.

At the same time, however, not all of us have the means to self-host. Some of us have no time, because system administration takes time to learn, takes time to practice, takes time to do. Some of us lack the know-how. We can write, and we want to write, but we can’t host. Perhaps we don’t have the money to pay for a host. Or we don’t have the energy or the time to look for the cheapest host out there. Perhaps we want to write but we feel comfortable with our phones and so we want to write on our phones. It’s like the best camera being the one you have on you. The best writing implement is the one you have on you. These days, it might be your phone.

Also, let us not forget that not every service is rendered by a faceless corporation. We can get service from cooperatives, from neighbours, from family members, from friends, from schools, from libraries, from friends we’ve made online. To design solutions that make it hard for friends to help each other, we design for the cold alienation of modern capitalism. We need to grow networks and help each other. Sure, we can write to each other. But we can also host each other. Like all these pubnix systems out there, we’re sharing a resource. Why should sharing shell access be any different from sharing text hosting?

And finally, let’s not forget that self-hosting means self-writing. But what if you’re collaborating? Of course, we could pull in yet another dependency: use git, or some other distributed version control system! Or how about the systems we us allow us to collaborate naturally, because they are inherently designed to do so? I share Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s original vision for a read-write web that Sean Conner dug up in RFC-1945, where we read that the POST method can be used for the “Annotation of existing resources” and for “Posting a message to a bulletin board, newsgroup, mailing list, or similar group of articles”, and that “the PUT method requests that the enclosed entity be stored” and that “the origin server can create the resource”. Yes! That’s exactly it.

And wikis were the big break through: we had browsers, we had forms, and that was it. But Ward Cunningham wrote the WikiWikiWeb, a website with pages that are quickly editable by users. The barrier to entry was extremely low.

Sure, it also attracted vandalism and spam, and like email, and like the fediverse, the technology is in a constant arms race to block and ban miscreants. But it still works and barriers to entry can still be low. We can all come together under a banner, be it the biggest encyclopedia known to humankind, or wikis on Star Wars, or the Malazan Empire of the Fallen, or Emacs, or any other kind of topic, really, and we can collaborate. It’s the simplest collaboration platform that works. You write some text. I fix mistakes. You make additions. I reorganise. You split it up. I link it. The hypertext grows without necessary “ownership” of pages.

The effort required to maintain a wiki is worth it, to me, because we have a viable alternative to the isolation of self-hosting, and the surrender to value-extracting corporations. Doing things together, achieving things together, is important to teach the new generation of people coming online, it is important to teach ourselves that resistance is not futile, resistance is not a struggle, resistance to the machine is the simple act of having fun and building things together.

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Comments on 2020-06-15 Why Wiki‽

A vision for Gemini (that doesn’t focus on wikis) by Solderpunk.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-06-16 21:27 UTC


Dunno, nowadays even large, popular wikis I see are being overrun by spam, or at least spambot accounts. Edits become rare. Discussions even more so. The whole point of a wiki is to enable communities, otherwise there are much better ways; and the community spirit has largely been lost in most places.

But I wrote all that before. Possibly even here. And at least with wikis I experienced that community spirit for a while; with shell accounts, not so much. Got to try again sometime.

A better question may be what exactly you’re inviting people to build with you. Because they are still coming together often enough. But they’re doing that on software forges, and on Neocities, and on forums. And I think what makes all of those different is that you can fork a project and submit pull requests, or quote other people and link to their posts (you can do that on any ordinary blog farm, too – oh look, another form of online community), until ownership begins to blur... but in an organic way. You can still say, “okay, by now I’ve crossed from my backyard into my neighbor’s”.

Guess that would be a village, then.

Felix 2020-06-17 15:29 UTC


Sure, and I understand those activities as well. All the RPG blogging goes there. People post new ideas, other people comment on it, or pick up on it using their own blogs, incorporate ideas into their own products, it’s true. And yet... I see the problem in the Emacs World. I’m depending on somebody like Sacha Chua to understand what’s going on. There are so many packages being posted, blog posts, and on and on. I guess I miss that feeling when people used Emacs Wiki to drop their half-finished stuff. But now we have MELPA and it’s all git, and what can I say, I feel the isolation of capitalism. Everything belongs to somebody, everybody is the king of their garden, all the exchanges are carefully gatekept, transactional, I send you mail, you accept merge requests, and so on.

I might be alone in this, but I still want that fluidity. I still want that lack of ownership, that building together, that communal aspect.

And in really small ways, it works: Campaign Wiki is where RPG groups can create their own wikis, just for them, an audience of three or four or five, and that makes them happy. It makes me happy, even if my players don’t write a lot – hardly anything, to be honest. But this is how I can have a quick and easy website that works with the browser as it’s only interface.

I really like that aspect, too. I’m not sure how many of the other authors (few as there are) would remain if they had to register by requesting a client certificate and got shell access, or a sftp account, or whatever one uses these days for sites like Neocities.

To me, these are all inferior solutions to just using wikis.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-06-17 15:41 UTC


So people wanting credit for their work is capitalism now? Artists wanting attribution? Writers wanting to own their words (and others to own their words as well)? Sure, we have a bit of a problem with capitalism too, as another friend of mine pointed out some months ago: this idea that everything we do, and every waking moment we have, should be monetized. But that’s a different problem.

People need and want their own little corners, and the ability to set boundaries, however blurry and permeable. And they prove it by flocking to those kinds of online media that provide.

Felix 2020-06-17 16:19 UTC


Sure. But at the same time, I also want the alternative. Let those people do what they want. I also have this blog, which is “mine”, and the software I maintain, and so on. What I called the “isolation of capitalism” is something different. It’s the feeling when every commons is privatised, all the land is enclosed, and every project has one benevolent dictator. I want the alternatives, too. I want cooperatives, associations, gaming groups, spontaneous collaboration, anonymous contributions. I want them on top of everything else.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-06-17 20:45 UTC

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2020-05-27 The meaning of software

An interesting blog post by Jesse Li, Where Did Software Go Wrong? It starts with the disillusion many feel about software development (me included), continues on to talk about who writes software, whom they write it for, who benefits, and capitalism.

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Comments on 2020-05-27 The meaning of software

The more I work in contact centre projects, where call centre agents make phone calls and answer e-mails, where they use scripts to guide the conversation, in an environment where I suspect that all the counter-arguments have been neatly assembled, where I imagine all responsibility is swiftly deflected, where I read that mistakes are only admitted in private and compensations are always tied to non-disclosure agreements, the more I wonder about the role of software in our society, the more I wonder about the role of programmers in our society. Are we arming corporations as they confront fellow humans, giving them longer lances, better tools? In the end we humans have but one choice, the one that I have made a long time ago: to minimize all contact. I don’t answer the phone for unknown numbers, I unsubscribe from all newsletters or send them straight to the Junk folder, I don’t send feedback, I block ads as much as I can. I try to live in a parallel universe where I don’t see them and they don’t see me because every second spent with corporations are seconds of my life lost. We are not cooperatives organising humans in order to improve our lot, together, and I’m feeling the alienation.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-05-28 11:44 UTC

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2020-05-09 Ethics and licensing

In 2018, I wrote about ethics in programming and today stumbled on a related thing when @decentral1se mentioned the Hippocratic License:

Politics and software are so tangled that they cannot be reasonably separated. … if those novel situations involve harming other people, we can and should feel responsible. … the Hippocratic License … specifically prohibits the use of software to violate universal standards of human rights

I understand the problem of interoperability, the difficulty of enforcement, the headaches of assembly… and yet! And yet. Remember Code is Law? Software is politics and programming is about making ethical choices. Why should the license be a technocratic decision? We fought proprietary software and while we haven’t won that’s not a reason to avoid a second battle. We are humans. We can juggle many things. Our opponents do, too. We can do this.

As humans, I feel that most of us do not want to be complicit in crimes. We don’t want to be working on weapons. We don’t want to be working for organizations that do evil. If we agree that people can have these goals while working, why should programming be different?

Sometimes a tool is like a shovel and we cannot prescribe what people do with their shovels. But when we can, and when we think this is fact necessary, we do add safety measures to physical tools in order to prevent their use as weapons. And where we cannot, we regulate their use: building regulations, traffic regulations, we have added safety standards everywhere so people don’t manufacture dangerous tools and so people don’t use tools in dangerous ways. Why should complex software be different?

As a human, you have the choice not to participate in crimes (I hope!), and you have the choice to design your products such that it is harder to commit a crime, and you can make contracts that forbid recipients to use products in certain ways – its all there, for good and for evil. Why should programmers relinquish this option which is at their disposal?

Free software activists have used free software licenses to fight back against proprietary software that is hard to audit, hard to study, hard to copy, hard to modify, hard to distribute. We have used copyright and license to guarantee freedom where the powers that be would have had us relinquish that freedom and let capital have its way. And we did it!

Sure, the fight for free software is not yet over but that is not an excuse. We can fight for ethical software at the same time. We can fight for it in politics, we can speak for it on our blogs, and we can push it using our licenses.

It might not be free software as we know it, but it will still be free software. There is no golden standard of freedom. Freedom is a balancing act that needs to be renegotiated again and again. And sometimes a freedom is curtailed for another freedom to flourish. In most democracies, for example, the constitution limits the laws that can be passed such that a simple majority in parliament cannot abuse a minority. This limitation is for the greater good: the consideration of legal interests is an ongoing process.

Here is what I’m talking about:

The freedom to run the program as you wish, for any purpose (freedom 0). – Richard Stallman, The Free Software Definition

I consider the freedom to run the program as you wish to be an important freedom, but it is not an absolute freedom. It can and it must be weighed against other legal interests, other freedoms and other rights – rights like the ones listed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

As I said at the top, more licenses is always a problem, specially if these are more licenses trying to achieve the same thing in incompatible ways, like free software. But there will always be new goals, and therefore there will always be a need for new licenses. We are not going to spend the next millennium without new licenses, for sure. Might as well make it a license that puts Human Rights first.

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Comments on 2020-05-09 Ethics and licensing

See also, A Six-Month Retrospective on Ethical Open Source by Coraline Ada Ehmke. Also, her other publications listed on Model View Culture.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-05-09 13:04 UTC


And interesting note by @sir, Thoughts on the subject of ethical licenses. He argues three points:

“Anyone who is prepared to violate human rights is going to have no problem ignoring your software license, too.” This is true. But I believe that it does send a message. Not all laws are necessary or enforced. We recently added sexual orientation to a list of things one may not discriminate against in Switzerland even though some people argued that it was already implicitly illegal due to some other law. Not sure whether the law was therefore unnecessary. I voted in favor of that change.

Sometimes interpretations vary by country. Many people in the US don’t consider water boarding to be torture, for example. And yet, this is having an effect outside of the US. We don’t like to send people wanted in the US to the US for fear of cruel and unusual punishment. Abroad, the US is now viewed as a country that may torture prisoners. So, even if human rights are ignored somewhere, highlighting this fact is going to have an effect. If ICE is violating human rights in the US a developer using a software is now both complicit in what is considered a crime abroad, and in violation of a license. I don’t think people will ignore this.

“It’s difficult to comply with” is a good argument. But that hasn’t stopped other laws from going into effect: enforcing GDPR is hard. Enforcing copyright and DRM is hard. Enforcing ethics is also hard. Perhaps it’s a good thing that we’re outgrowing the simple problems. Time to tackle the hard ones.

“It’s not open source.” I think already discussed this in the blog post. It’s true. Ethical software puts limits on freedom zero, the freedom to use the software for anything. There are limits.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-05-09 13:30 UTC


Not directly related, but you linked to a slideshow presented on a single HTML page that talked about how websites were overwritten and way too large, and the site had other interesting transcriptions... I remember making a copy of it, but it seems like I misplaced it 😟

Ynas Midgard 2020-06-28 14:49 UTC


Maybe in the comments of 2019-07-11 The breaking of the web?

– Alex Schroeder 2020-06-28 19:01 UTC


Ah, found it on an older device of mine: The Website Obesity Crisis!

Ynas Midgard 2020-06-29 10:06 UTC

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2020-02-23 Into the climate catastrophe

An evolutionary stable strategy is one where all members of a group do (possibly terrible) things because the one who stops will suffer in comparison to the others. And so the pattern continues: «once it is fixed in a population, natural selection alone is sufficient to prevent alternative (mutant) strategies from invading successfully.» Male lions continue killing the cubs of their predecessors. People continue driving cars and flying planes.

Unlike lions, humans have the ability to regulate their societies. We could legislate against cars and planes, against beef and oil, against palm oil, against antibiotics and growth hormones in animal feed. But that just shifts the point of view: between nations, the same law holds true: the first one to stop will suffer in comparison to the others. Which is why practically nobody wants to be the first.

The second best approach we have is education: we know better but we cannot change our own behaviour, so we teach our kids to do better where we failed, and wait for our generation to die. The mortality rate limits how quickly humanity can change.

I guess that points us to one possible factor that will improve the rate of change regarding climate change: the people in power simply dying of old age.

I guess I’m one of the kids that grew up knowing better. I knew that the environment was important, but my generation was also too weak to affect real change. It was slow. I remember when I was 18, our history teacher asked us about our votes. I would have voted Green (but couldn’t, because I was a foreigner living in Switzerland). One guy had voted for the Car Party “for balance”. 🤦‍️ Change is extremely slow. But as the old generations are dying, real change is ever more plausible.

Also, think about the far future: whatever the catastrophe, however much biodiversity is lost, however many species went extinct, however many people have died: our descendants will claim that they made the changes just in time. Because those changes happened just in time for their present to be only one there is. Everything else will be “alt history”. Like: nobody cares about the possibility of us having killed Hitler earlier. WW2 ended just so that our present world could emerge.

The future people of Earth will look back and describe the events unfolding now as a successful last-minute turnaround, a miracle, ignoring the fact that we could have done all of this back in the seventies when people realised that the whales were dying, that Smog was killing us, when the trees started dying, when the hole in the ozone layer was discovered. But we found a way to manage the damage. We changed, as slowly as possible.

Finally, we’re picking up speed.

There will be a lot of finger pointing. People will claim that “they didn’t know.” Like the Germans and their collaborators everywhere, after the war. Or perhaps: “we knew something was wrong but what are you going to do?” I don’t know. But we better be doing something. The first thing to do would be to stop working for the companies that are actively destroying the world we know. Then we stop supporting them. Then we vote and legislate them out of business. Let’s end those planet eaters.

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Comments on 2020-02-23 Into the climate catastrophe

That’s a very good point about ending up viewing changes eventually implemented as a “last-minute turnaround”.

Ynas Midgard 2020-02-23 16:22 UTC


Yeah, I started thinking about that in the context of green parties in European parliaments not getting as much done as I would have liked. And sometimes I look around and feel that journalists write as if climate problems and our awareness of them was “new” – but it’s not.

The again:

– Alex Schroeder 2020-02-23 17:39 UTC


@olivia replied on Mastodon:

First time i visited europe i was surprised by how much people in a ’first world’ country could actually live their whole lives thinking they are ’good people’ and ’do no harm to others’ (and really, they’re not doing anything wrong) and recycling and being nice to their neighbors. without realizing they were working for companies that actively engaged in social exploitation in far-away lands, buying things made by someone that makes 1 dollar a day etc.

because in these first world country everything is so clean and orderly. and the trains come on time and you don’t see poor people on the streets. poverty is elsewhere. but it’s hard to see how much your life impacts poverty across the globe in these situations. we need to remember, as david harvey always says, how did the food we eat was produced. the things we buy. why are they so cheap? how can i buy a shirt for 5 dollars if getting a haircut where i live costs 4× that?


The comment above developed into a longer discussion on Mastodon. I don’t think I can copy it all to the blog. Sorry!

– Alex Schroeder 2020-02-23 22:24 UTC


Where were you when you wrote this, three days before you arrived in Quito?

Ed Davies 2020-02-26 21:19 UTC


Greta Thunberg: Humanity has not yet failed, 75 on the Swedish radio, in English.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-06-26 14:51 UTC


Population panic lets rich people off the hook for the climate crisis they are causing, by George Monbiot, The Guardian: “[Dame Jane Goodall] proposed no mechanism by which her dream might come true. This could be the attraction. The very impotence of her call is reassuring to those who don’t want change. If the answer to environmental crisis is to wish other people away, we might as well give up and carry on consuming.”

– Alex Schroeder 2020-08-26 14:09 UTC


Ice Sheet Melting Is Perfectly in Line With Our Worst-Case Scenario, Scientists Warn, by Marlowe Hood.

“We need to come up with a new worst-case scenario for the ice sheets because they are already melting at a rate in line with our current one,” lead author Thomas Slater, a researcher at the Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling at the University of Leeds, told AFP.

– Alex 2020-09-15 08:24 UTC

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2020-02-14 Unprofessional

Eldrad Wolfsbane recently wrote Reevaluating My RPG Gamer (NON) Life. It’s an angry and melancholy story about work sucking the hours out of your life, at least that’s how I read it. Also, termites. But also soul and sweat poured into a thing that nobody uses. It breaks my heart.

The rest of this blog post is not about Eldrad Wolfbane’s decision to go back to his gaming roots: “All on paper, scratchy drawings and maps on graph paper. All hand written dice rolled stuff. I am just going to create stuff for my own personal games.” The rest of this blog post is about capitalism and how not to be professional, i.e. how not to “prosecute anything for a livelihood”, as Webster had it in 1913.

I’m only doing the stuff I want for my own games. The amount of effort I put into the Caverns of Slime for Fight On! #15 which never got published showed me that every step of the process has to be enjoyable. If it is not, if it is premised on some later reward and recognition, what happens when the reward does not manifest? Time is wasted and life passes and then we grow and then we die, that’s what.

It’s why I decided to only do the things I like doing. I don’t believe in “when you build it they will come” because in today’s society we have a “winner takes all” setup: we can produce PDFs in infinite numbers, we can send physical books all over the world, we can reach a global readership, we have ways to fund projects... everything is possible! It’s exciting! It’s liberating! But it’s also possible for everybody else. That includes the people who know how to play the Marketing Organ, that know how to blow the Trumpet of Hype, that have the experience. And when somebody wins, they win globally. Everybody knows them and second place is first loser.

Ah, now we’re back where we began: how much are you willing to sacrifice in this time and age of capitalism when you don’t have the capital? How much work will you do upfront, exploiting yourself, working in the great lottery of life hoping for a big break? It’s dreams and fantasies, and we are as prone to them as everybody else. And the big machine will eat us up and spit us out, thoroughly chewed and maybe even spit upon. Just look at show business, at the music industry, anything where capital and fame is important. The winner takes it all. How much are you willing to sacrifice in order to be a winner? You life? Your relationship? Your family? Your hobbies? How about: None of the above! 😁

A year ago, I read this great blog post by Molly Conway, The Modern Trap of Turning Hobbies Into Hustles. I recommend you read it. It starts with the author meeting a friend who made herself a wonderful dress and is dejected when asked about an Etsy shop. The tension dissolves when the author says the magic words: “You don’t have to monetize your joy.”

I feel this pressure to publish in the RPG design sphere, and I don’t think it’s healthy or good. Some people enjoy making these products. And some people like buying products. And capitalism is made for this: capital allows people to make products that satisfy demand. As the capital flows, it creates incentives of its own. I’m not Karl Marx but even I understand that the people involved in this trade have an urge to communicate their joy, and the incentives are in their favour. For some, it’s marketing. For some, it’s unboxing videos. For others, it’s reviews. But for all of us, it’s capitalism at its best: creating demand, and satisfying demand by producing things.

But here’s the rub: if you’re strapped for capital, then it doesn’t work that way. That’s why when we work for money, we often feel bad about it, disenfranchised. Because if we were doing it for fun, then somebody else would be doing it for free. That’s why fun isn’t something you’re getting money for. It’s work. Of course, some people try to tell us that work should be fun, and that we should enjoy it, and love it, and pour our soul into it. But remember: all they’re saying is that they’d like us to do the work for free. That’s not how it works, but if enough of us believe it, then wages go down. Work is not about having fun, and having fun should not turn into work.

I’m not poor, so I don’t know anything about the realities of hustling. But it seems to me that if you’re poor, you need to work and make money. But for the love all the things you love, don’t turn the thing you love into a hustle. Flip burgers or something. Keep work and play separate. Don’t turn your game into a poorly paid job.

Instead, consider how the act of playing our beloved games is fundamentally anti-capitalistic: you don’t need to buy much of anything to play. Pen, paper, dice, maybe a book or two. And then: no money required for years and years. You can’t grow a global reach by playing at a table. I guess you can grow a global audience with YouTube and Twitch and all that, and maybe monetise it, but mostly the providers of these services are going to monetise you. The actual game needs no money. You talk and laugh, and scribble and dabble, howl and haggle, and a good time is had. There is no “growth.” There is no “increased productivity.” It’s about the basic joys of being alive: talking to people, imagining things and telling others about it.

Focus on the things that you love doing.

If you want to put that thing you loved making out for other people to see, write a blog post, create a PDF using the means of production you have at your disposal, and do it, for the joy of it. Don’t expect a reward or later recognition. That’s not how it works for the great majority of us. Make it free and keep capitalism out of your hobbies.

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Comments on 2020-02-14 Unprofessional

Good to know that flipping burgers is better way to support yourself, and totally doesn’t suck the life and energy out folx, and totally doesn’t negatively impact creativity.

– Anonymous 2020-02-14 19:52 UTC


Let’s talk when the RPGs bring in as much money as flipping burgers. Flipping burgers is a job. Making RPGs for a living is winning the lottery. Telling people to pursue their dreams and work in RPGs is simply bad advice. Yes, flipping burgers is shite for life and energy and creativity. But so are most other jobs.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-02-14 20:46 UTC


Like how dare folx monetize their hobby

– Anonymous 2020-02-14 21:14 UTC


I guess I don’t understand the argument you are trying to make and it seems pretty clear that you don’t understand the point I’m trying to make. Move along, please. I don’t think this conversation is going anywhere. Feel free to write a longer reply elsewhere.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-02-14 21:46 UTC


(Un)Professional, on the Axes and Orcs blog argues that they know “more than a few folx who do [make a living]” (presumably from RPG product making).

Of course I would claim this is survivorship bias: they are not counting all the people who failed. It is only by comparing the two that we arrive at numbers that would help us decide who’s advice to heed. As I don’t know the numbers either, we are at an impasse. All we can do is list are anecdotes and critically examine the system.

Anecdotally, I have seen a small number of people selling a few books. Do they have day jobs? I think so; I haven’t ever heard of anybody getting rich from RPGs. So even at the top, the air is thin. That is to say, on the winning side, the rewards don’t seem to be great.

At the same time, the number of people I see begging on social media is heart breaking. I think we must all work for change but we must also survive. Looking at the amount of bad news from the US health care failure is crushing. Such an inhumane system is one of the main reasons to not drop your day job. Leaving the system is a mortal danger. That is to say, the price of failure is horrendous.

Based on that, I’d say that unless you’re living in a social system with safety nets for diseases and accidents, producing RPG products is almost always going to be a side job. I don’t know whether people like Sine Nomine Publishing’s Kevin Crawford have a day job. I assume they do? John M. Stater of Land of Nod does. In any case, I don’t see many people in their league.

So now we’re talking about “just do it as some extra cash”. Here, too, I see a lot of hardship – perhaps it is not as existential, But what I remember of people talking about how their games are doing financially is mostly that it is coffee money, or enough for them to support other creators, or simply some form of validation. To which I say: sure, if that’s the reward you are looking for, then this is fine. More power to you. It does look like a completely different hobby than running and playing the games, though.

Perhaps I’m simply confused (or we all are?) because we think the product authors share the same hobby when in fact on the one side there are the people running and playing the games, which involves a bit of writing, and on the other side we have authors of ergodic literature, as recently discussed by Robbie on Teaching Role-Playing Games, Part 1: The Justification:

The basic argument is that there is a type of literature—not a genre per se, but a kind of modality—that requires efforts which go beyond the direct understanding or reading of a text. This is what he means by ergodic literature.

Such as RPG products. We’re talking about how to become a successful author for a (no longer?) niche market. I think that culturally we know about how to become authors and thus we are better able to understand how it will work because we have seen enough movies and read enough books where authors make an appearance:

  • there is not a lot of money in it at first
  • there will be many rejections
  • many will quit before making a break through
  • the break through will be a matter of luck
  • the connections, the people you know are important
  • many authors rely on the financial support of others

– Alex Schroeder 2020-02-15 07:14 UTC


AHAH! People do read my blog! Just a few musing to stir up some conversations. Explain “prosecute anything for a livelihood” as my meager Louisiana education (Ranked 62 in the Nation!) allows this term to elude me and frankly anyone else who has tried to discern the meaning of such.

EldradWolfsbane 2020-02-16 04:13 UTC


Webster 1913 app screenshot showing the entry for ‘professionally’ 😀 – as a non-native English speaker I often look up words in a thesaurus. Specifically, the Webster 1913 edition which is in the public domain. It’s my favourite!

I sort of knew that “professional” meant doing something “for a living” but I didn’t know what the exact definition was. And when I looked it up on Webster, I thought “prosecute anything for a livelihood” was funny as I associate “to prosecute something” with lawyers and so I decided to quote it. 🤷🏻

Also learning English as a 15 year old with AD&D 1st ed and Gary Gygax’ prose surely didn’t help, haha!

As for blogs I read: these days I stopped subscribing to blogs and just skim the RPG Planet. And since your blog is listed, I read it. 😀

– Alex Schroeder 2020-02-16 11:29 UTC


FWIW, Kevin of Sine Nomine Games does write RPGs full-time, but he’s definitely an exception rather than the rule. He does believe others could follow his suit, though, and he’s pretty open about his methods (e.g. free flagship game that lures in customers, offering cross-system tools to increase potential audience, pricing, and generally being a one-man show, except for art in his case).

Ynas Midgard 2020-02-16 20:39 UTC


Point taken. Kevin Crawford, and I’m guessing all the small scale businesses like Paizo or Monte Cook Games are a handful of people that manage to live off of RPG products. Maybe Wolfgang Baur and Kobold Press as well?

I’ll easily concede that it is possible to so. I’m not sure how much of concession that is, however. It still looks like a lottery to me.

I’m not sure what to make of it. I know, of course, that many people will try to win the lottery in life, be it writing their books at night, painting in their studios, following their dreams... But if these people were my kids, I’d hope that they also don’t have to beg for alms, for donations, for dollars on Patreon. I’d hope that they got a steady day job and pursued their dream while being safe. Perhaps it’s middle age that’s making me say this. I also want to say this to the people that have a hobby they enjoy: playing games with their friends. Begging for alms, tip jars, dollars on Patreon, telling me that the dollars they get allow them to justify the hours they spend... I don’t know. If they were my kids, I hope they’re all happy. I hope that they’re not setting themselves up for disappointment. If 9999 of them are unhappy and one of them wins the RPG lottery, that still is a lot of misery. How many RPG players are there? 10 million? How many people make a living writing RPG products? Let’s be generous: 100? That still leaves 100,000 of them. One in a hundred thousand. Now, you can counter that by saying who cares about the players of games, we need to compare them with the number of people trying to make a living making RPG products. Surely there are far fewer of them. I’ll concede that as well. If only one in 10,000 gamers wants to make a living making RPG products, then perhaps I’m wrong to be so negative: 1 in 10 would succeed. Nine unhappy stories of slow failure and grinding and nothing to show for it, and one of them makes it.

I don’t know. I’d still feel bad about it as a parent. Sure, follow your dream! But… be careful out there: Consider the nine who tried in vain, for years, they gave their all and still they failed. And consider the 9,999 gamers who decided no to make a living making RPG products. Perhaps they made better life choices.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-02-16 22:35 UTC


(Somebody also posted it on Reddit.)

– Alex Schroeder 2020-02-16 22:43 UTC


If you want to be an author, you’re playing a different game. Good luck!

I just saw this on Mastodon, by @mwlucas:

I write books to pay the bills. No consulting, no leeching off family members, no teaching: only writing books.

How do I pull it off?

  1. Understand cashflow
  2. By treating it as a business

More on publishing, writing, etc at my FAQ.

The big secret: MAKE MOAR WORDS!

– Alex Schroeder 2020-02-18 22:29 UTC


I liked this post by Noah S.: Chasing the Dragon.

I am growing disgruntled with the endless onslaught of prompts to buy things. I won’t go too much into it here, but it started with a couple of years ago as all these creative and talented people I love started and brought pet projects to fruition (which is great) and made them for sale (which is fine) but then turned to making things for sale (my perception) and became less focused on just sharing cool ideas (my possibly erroneous conclusion).

– Alex Schroeder 2020-02-21 23:47 UTC


Alex et al. I believe this may be the version to use to look up Webser’s 1913. I just found it after the jsomers reference was not found:

https://www.websters1913.com/

I am totally bookmarking this!

PresGas 2020-02-23 21:16 UTC


Depending on your nerdiness, you can also install a dict server and install the appropriate dictionary... For Debian, that would be the package dict-gcide:

Comprehensive English Dictionary

This package contains the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English, formatted for use by the dictionary server in the dictd package. The GCIDE contains the full text of the 1913 Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, supplemented by many definitions from WordNet, the Century Dictionary, 1906, and many additional definitions contributed by volunteers.

The definitions in the core of this dictionary are at least 85 years old, so they can not be expected to be politically correct by contemporary standards, and no attempt has been, or will be, made to make them so.

This package will be of limited use without the server found in the dictd package, or another RFC 2229 compliant server.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-02-23 23:54 UTC


Recently, @JasonT was wondering about this from a different angle. For him, compensation is important and he thinks that the solution is for “more privileged creators” to charge for their work so as to “fight the norm of undercutting struggling pros with free games.”

I don’t know.

I don’t like how the things we love are measured in money, how every labour of love is turned into a little freelancing job. Now, some people are poor and they’d like to do that for a living but the main problem here seems to be poverty and I think that poverty needs a political solution, not better ways of self exploitation. I don’t want to be complicit in a scheme were people do this.

I mean, we could do both, of course. But remember that my starting point is that I feel that money corrupts the things I love. I’m simply not convinced that turning my hobby into a little job is going to help me. Do I have to renounce part of my hobby, now?

If somebody wants to argue with me about capitalism instead of poverty, saying that I’m “destroying the market” for people, then I’d say that it is not my duty to maintain a viable market where none exists. Supply and demand: if enough of something is available, prices will drop. It’s a tragedy, but that’s how it is. If many people can serve a table, then servers are going to be paid badly. The solution to that is unions and better legal protection for works, though. The solution is not individual acts but collective action. This is a political problem.

But really, for me, it’s about money corrupting everything and I want no part in it. I want to draw a clear line between my money job and hobbies, and it’s going to take a lot of convincing for me to drop that part of the hobby.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-04-13 20:45 UTC


I saw a lot of backlash at you on Twitter for voicing these opinions a few days ago, and I have voiced similar views to these and I support your stance. I have been very very poor and in danger of homelessness at times in my life, with food scarcity and I am still in immense amounts of student loan and tax debt. That is to say, I am not good at managing money. I do not believe that setting up a small publishing business or authorship of RPG works would save my bacon. Or even provide a livable wage. I am a relative unknown, an independent, and frankly working to change that so that the scale of sales I have made or would make is not a job I relish or would gladly do.

I saw a Twitterer post some numbers of her good, but modest sales through her indie work on DTRPG and itch.io, and frankly I have survived on those numbers of dollars back in the early numbers but it was very close and very uncomfortable. I would not wish that life on anyone, and further I do not believe that income represents her sole income. It seems to me possible, slimly possible, that someone could convert a hobby writing RPG stuff into a full time job (of course it has happened and must happen again) but it’s sort of like a kid wishing they could be a basketball star with the NBA... How many kids are out there trying to get those skills and turn the game into a lucrative job? Millions? I would not tell that kid not to play ball. These days kids tell me they want to be Twitch or YouTube or (now) TikTok stars without even comprehending that once the modus is commoditized, the market for that money is gone and sucked up by other people who recognized the demand and changed the market forever.

Best wishes - thanks for stopping by my blog to start with. Yours humbly, Noah

Noah Stevens 2020-07-23 17:22 UTC


Cheers, Noah, and thanks for your comment. I recently read a long post on the slow crash of the United States and how making education more and more expensive, and enabling more self-exploitation by student loans, and protecting the entire scheme by making these loans exempt from bankruptcy... Yikes!

I found this story of somebody reducing their debt from 200,000 to 100,000 with that debt being at 1% – still a lot of money and there were lawyers to pay, and her credit rating is probably as bad can get, but it’s a start. Source: Turns Out Bankruptcy Can Wipe Out Student Loan Debt After All, by Chris Arnold, NPR.

Wishing you all the best dealing with the debt!

Yeah, kids wanting to be YouTube and TikTok stars makes me think back to a time of kids wanting to be supermodels, rock stars, national league soccer players, all – and me wanting to be an astronaut. The dreams people had in the seventies, I guess. Yeah, it’s going to happen for a handful of them, but a lot of the ugliness remains invisible and the terrible costs of all those who tried and failed, they’re not thinking about that. Those are huge gambles, not rational career choices.

As for Twitter, I wonder what you saw – was it Axes & “Fuck Alex Schroeder” Orcs, again? They sure like to keep that fire 🔥 🔥 burning! 😆 I think I prefer my little corner of the Internet where I don’t have to read what they write, haha.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-07-23 18:12 UTC


Most likely.

Ynas Midgard 2020-07-24 03:46 UTC


I see. They say “that reads to us that they don’t give a fuck as the best reading to actively want us to shut up and make free stuff for them.” Of course that makes them angry. But that isn’t what I’m trying to say. I’m saying: if my friend, if my child, if anybody makes bad career choices, I want to give them a warning. Watch out! You only have one life. This doesn’t seem like a good career. Perhaps I’m simply too old. I think and talk like a parent telling their child to paint as hobby, not to be a full time painter. Few artists get paid what they deserve. Our politics aren’t there, yet. There is not universal basic income. So when I read “small creators who are were or still are very poor, as in folx starving at the worst,” my heart bleeds. I want to tell them: don’t put yourself in a position where you’re starving. Work on that before you work on your art. “Do, or die trying” sounds cool until you realize that you only have one life, you only have these years.

But who am I talking to. They feel “an incandescent rage at [my] gross demonstration of a lack of empathy”. Better to move on.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-07-24 06:11 UTC

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