Thoughts on a Consolidated Relay.FM Community Project

On Analog(ue) #76, Casey and Myke struggle with sanctioning some sort of Relay.FM community, likely to take the form of a Slack or a forum.  Having more than a decade of experience in running that sort of thing, I wrote the founders an email (most of which I’ve left intact here, and I’ve edited the email slightly; and I got Myke’s permission to publish this):

Myke and Stephen —
1.  I do not want the job of moderating/leading moderation of a Relay.FM listener community.  I have enough plates spinning.
2.  I have run a fan community since 2002a small CCM/folk band from Texas that had a lot of fans for a while, and when their official fan group lay fallow, some friends and I took it up.  The band hasn’t recorded for years, and one of the artists quite publicly imploded in a public divorce based on infidelity — and yet the community lives on.
We used a forum from 2002 through, well, sometime last year.  The forum is still there, but the traffic was going way, way down over time.  I actually considered closing things, but I decided to start a Slack to see if that would work.  Our traffic, while it will never come close to the peak of 2003-06, is back up.  It’s a tool that serves a purpose.
Here is my basic take on this:
Slack is great for ephemeral conversations (a random channel is great for this, even as it has the capacity to go weird, creepy, or over-the-line) as well as focused ones that get archived.  We use a bot that pushes an announcement out to the Announcements channel whenever a new channel is created.  It mostly works.
Forums are great for longer-form discussion and cross-referencing.  They work if people are good with writing those things.  They can be cantankerous and nasty.  Being a religious-oriented thing, we ended up creating an At Your Own Risk board where the rules were relaxed and people knew that mean things may be said.  That said, it stayed within limits.
In both cases, norms will build on your own, but my strong, strong, strong advice is this:
Whatever form of community-building you choose, you will need to be fairly involved (say 5-15 hours a week) with it for anywhere from two weeks to three months, full stop.  If you are not involved to that degree, you run the risk of losing control of it very quickly.  If you aren’t involved, you cannot effectively pass on the norms and values that you want the place to have.
Our RMFO forum would’ve never existed in the forum that it did at its peak if I and other leaders weren’t able to spend large amounts of time on it.  I estimate that I was on the forums a good six hours a day for the period 2002-06, more if work were slow or it were a weekend.  Note that I didn’t have a girlfriend at the time, and while I did have a job — a great job! — I could keep an eye on things if I weren’t terribly consumed with work.  Running the forum wasn’t a job, but I put that level of effort into it.
A Relay community would require a lot of work, and I mean a lot of work.  I think that it would be very successful very quickly because of the breadth and depth of their shows.  If you summed the number of Twitter followers that each host and show have, de-duplicate the group, and argue that maybe 3% of them would even want to join a community like that, you’ve probably got 1,000-ish people there to start.
To manage that group, Stephen and Myke would probably want to hire a few people — 3-5, likely, with someone nominally in charge — to run the thing, plus schedule appearances to be in the community.  That’s an investment in building a community, one that won’t pay off financially in the short term and may not in the long term.  Doing a Relay.FM community correctly requires a time and money commitment that I’m fairly sure that the founders are unwilling to make at this time.
You are free, of course, to start your own Relay.FM fan community.  That’s what Bryan and Megan did back in the day, and what I and others did in picking up the mantle.  Start a good one, prove the concept, and maybe you get the job.  May I suggest #RelayOurCommunity to get started?

I Date Girls Who Read

“Girl reading at the bus stop”: Dave Hoffman

Rosemarie Urquico1 wrote a piece entitled “You should date a girl who reads.” in response to a Charles Warnke’s paean to illiterate women. I happen to fall in Urquico’s camp.

I come from a family of readers. My parents both read, and they passed the love down to both of us. Our family gives books as presents: birthdays, holidays, just because. Our houses are liberally sprinkled with books. The ledge of my loft area has a number of as-yet-unread books on its edge. I’m in the middle of four different books right now. It’s how we do.

My brother taught me to read on the sly. He was eight, and I think he taught his two year old brother to read merely to get me the hell out of his room. The family story goes that I picked up the San Antonio Express-News one morning, carried it to my mother, and asked, “Mom, what does rapped mean?” Imagine my mother’s surprise that not only was her second son reading but she now had to divert me from any conversations about sexuality, forced or otherwise.

I also find myself drawn to friends who read. All of my close friends do, and even if we don’t read the same thing, our thinking lives are enriched by what we take in. I have more than a few friends who are librarians—honest-to-God MLS-holding librarians—and a few who also seek to be published authors. The readers have a need to know, and the writers have a need to say. I find both qualities to be important in my associations.

As I told my friend Lucas last night,2 one of the many reasons that I’m still single is because I am only interested in smart women. A mind that regularly encounters a book—fiction or non-fiction—is a mind that exercises and thinks. I believe that it’s important to think critically about new things because it keeps the mind sharp and pliable. I hope to never stop reading books that make me think about things in a new way. I think all readers share the risk of confirmation bias, but I try to move past that when possible.3

Why date a girl who reads? To quote Urquico:

Let her know that you understand that words are love. Understand that she knows the difference between books and reality but by god, she’s going to try to make her life a little like her favorite book. It will never be your fault if she does.

She has to give it a shot somehow.

Fail her. Because a girl who reads knows that failure always leads up to the climax. Because girls who read understand that all things must come to end, but that you can always write a sequel. That you can begin again and again and still be the hero. That life is meant to have a villain or two.

Why be frightened of everything that you are not? Girls who read understand that people, like characters, develop.

Of course, all that is about her and how she’ll relate to you. It’s as important to consider it from the man’s side:

If you find a girl who reads, keep her close. When you find her up at 2 AM clutching a book to her chest and weeping, make her a cup of tea and hold her. You may lose her for a couple of hours but she will always come back to you. She’ll talk as if the characters in the book are real, because for a while, they always are.

[Emphasis mine.]

Physical beauty fades, but the power of a strong mind stays throughout a woman’s life. The mind of a woman that reads will always be beautiful to me, and that’s all the beauty I need.

  1. Googling her has shown her to be a writer in her late 20s 

  2. His girlfriend is the one who linked me to this, but I hadn’t read her Ninesday post at the time. 

  3. I have been known to throw books across the room. I’m looking at you, Marcus Borg. 

Making Room

Roses budding in my front flower bed
These roses budded in my front flower bed back in June

For many, summer is about love: summer romances, May and June weddings, long days stretching out and giving the day that last gasp of diffuse light before the night is quickly upon you, thought not long to stay. I don’t know what this says about me, but I’ve never been one for love in the summertime. I typically find myself falling in love in the fall. I don’t know if it’s autumn breezes chasing the muggy sullenness of August or whether I associate fall with new school years, even nine years removed from attaining my degree. It’s just where I am.

Continue reading Making Room

On Hope for the Rise of the Medium Form Enthusiast

I’ve written in some self-hosted, logware-enabled space in my corner of the Internet since March 2001. In the various incarnations of my site(s), I’ve done a number of things, and I had a reasonable C-list ranking at one time. That and $5 got me overpriced coffee at Starbucks. 1 As a result of having written in this personal-publishing space for this time, I’ve seen fads come and go and participated in many of them. I feel that I found my voice somewhere along the way, and at this point, I really don’t care if it’s popular or not. My target audience is usually a future version of me who wants to know what I was thinking at the time.

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Last night, Stephen and I briefly discussed personal publishing, and we approached the topic at a way better than I had in the past, where I was arguing for all things to be new again. 2 He noted that Twitter has killed the linkblog, and I agreed: if I find a link interesting enough to pass along, I send it to Twitter and/or post it on Facebook.3 I ended delicious-powered daily link roundups here back in late October, and I’ve heard no complaint. 4 Simply put, using this as a source to aggregate links has ceased being useful for me, so I just don’t do it.

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That leaves me with the question of what happens going forward, both for this space and for personal-publishing in general. I think it’s going to end up be a push for medium-form enthusiasm. For me, there are things that interest me, things that I will write about enthusiastically because I’m interested in them and really care. Recent examples: wanting the Bengals to cut Carson Palmer, my frustration with the various NCAA/professional eligibility standards, putting election results in proper perspective, and thoughts on preventing concussions in football. Driving back from Birmingham one day this week, I developed a tagline for this attitude: “Whatever Interests Me, Whenever I Feel Like Writing.”

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For me, I’ve largely stopped caring about any particular entry’s popularity, or the site as a whole. I think that this is informed by discussions with Stephen, who is the LOLTrek guy. Stephen has written a lot of funny things over the years, and while I think that LOLTrek is pretty funny5, I would argue that he’s written funnier and more interesting things. But LOLTrek got popular through a unique confluence of incoming links6, and you just can’t plan that. Right now, I’m happy if I’ve made someone think with something that I’ve written7.

  1. If you want me to enjoy it, make it a quad venti mocha, but only before noon, because I don’t want to be awake until 0300. 

  2. That’s pretty darn unlikely. 

  3. I will admit to posting it on Facebook if it will antagonize people who presume that I’m still my Young Republican self from a decade ago. 

  4. I’ve also since migrated from delicious to Pinboard, which is focused on providing value to the user and not for the “social graph”. 

  5. I re-read the macros once I’d grabbed the link 

  6. Said confluence brought my server to its knees and had me wanting to throw things at Stephen, but his daughter was born that week, and … yeah. 

  7. But I will probably look at the stats on this entry. 

On Spiritual Gifts and The Application Thereof

So I had this realization Sunday morning at church, in a discussion of spiritual gifts: just because mine is leading1 doesn’t mean that I have to use it in all phases of my life. I was specifically thinking about work. As I contemplate a new job2, I’ve been seeking both project management and non-management jobs. I would prefer a non-management job at this point in my career3. That is a big shift for me, as I’ve really been defining my self-worth through my job performance, which is unhealthy in a number of ways:

  1. If there were a way to quantify my job performance independent of my coworkers and situation, that would be one thing, but this isn’t baseball, where sabermetricians have worked to provide context-independent measurements of player performance. There is always the Yearly Review, which always left me with the same thought: “I would’ve graded myself more harshly than my boss did.”
  2. In any regard, deriving self-worth from performance is a fruitless endeavor. Self-worth is best derived from one’s value system and the degree to which one holds to those values4.
  3. The things I do at my job do have value5, but how I show and receive love for my fellow man is far more important to me. I can do a lot of things in life, but it’s far better that I care for other folks in life.

In parsing through all of that, I had the thought: what if I re-oriented my thinking here? I did the management thing because I am a leader, and because I wanted to lead. However, wouldn’t a better expression of that leadership gift be done in a church body where it could be better used, rather than in a work situation where it’s mostly for profit? I think so. Let’s be clear: I’m not going to turn down a management position that comes my way; after all, I do need a job. But given a choice, I might choose a different route to leave breathing space in my life for leading in a more meaningful6 position.

  1. I think. I haven’t taken an inventory. I will be early next year as a part of a class. 

  2. I haven’t mentioned being unemployed here; sorry, I’ve a lot of backstory to get out for you here 

  3. If a management job is all I find, I’ll take it. Those pay better, anyway, but it’s not all about the money. 

  4. After all, values are lipservice unless put into action. 

  5. After all, I was working in the nation’s space program until I left in May. 

  6. To me. 

On the Arc of Life

I started this as a response to something Paul wrote; decided to trail off the comment I’d left with something here:

Sure, we’re governed by our history [I’m with Joe; love that line]. But I’d also argue that these feelings of stuck are there for us to re-evaluate things. They’re the cognitive reminder that either the course needs correcting, or the old plan wasn’t followed, or that the old plan was shit and now what do you do?

I view life as a rope, fixed on one end: our birth, into the situation we were born into, with the talents and flaws we were doled out. On the other end, we’re weaving in all these strands of things, making the rope we have. You can’t really cut the rope that fixes you to your past—it’ll always be there in your mind, even if you “re-invent yourself” and become a whole new person. You’ll still know that it’s there.

But just because that fixed endpoint is there, and the momentum of the rope that’s laid out has an arc to it … that doesn’t constrain you to putting new strands in, taking old strands out, and trying to change the arc of the rope.

I’ve been coming to grips with a lot of things in the last year or so. I have hit four realizations …

  1. This mental illness that I have is something I’ll have for the rest of my life. I’ll need mood stabilizers as long as I live. It’s admittedly painful to realize that you can’t lead a normal life without pharmacological intervention, but … I can’t go on living like I was. I just can’t. I was an undamped oscillating function—okay, a diving board springing ever faster and higher. The hypomania and the depression came in longer spells than they used to; the depressive spells were deepening. I literally couldn’t have handled it for much longer. I’m convinced that I’d have been dead by 35 without seeking help, so I did. Damn straight I take that green tablet every night.
  2. My value as a person comes from my beliefs, my ethos, my core. My value does not come from the work I do, the degree I hold, my SAT score, how much I do for other people, or anything like that. I believed that lie for more than a decade, and it ended up with me ever more desperately seeking ever greater success to keep proving to the world that I Am Somebody. A project manager at 27? A NASA award-winner at 29? All I heard in my head is that I was peaking too soon.
  3. I can handle my emotions. I’m an emotionally intense person. I shouldn’t fight that. I should let these things come and go in the waves that they do. Fighting that is just a terrible way to live.
  4. I’m an addict.

More on that last one soon. I just came to that realization on Tuesday, and I’m still coming to grips with it.

Where I Live Is Now My Home

Kari wrote a thought-provoking piece about how you can’t visit a place and truly know it.

When Tanya Davis opened the show we saw on [Prince Edward Island], her first song was focused on the beauty she sees and loves around the Island. The line I quoted in the title of this post stood out to me: You have to stay in a place through all the seasons to appreciate everything that it is. I think PEI is a wonderful place to visit, but she is right: I only know a part of it.

I have moved around a lot in my life. Dad was Air Force, so we were itinerant. After that, I continued the move-every-four, living four years in East Central Mississippi before two years in Columbus and then moving to Huntsville for college. Somewhere along the way, though, inertia set in. Actually, that’s not fair. Huntsville was the first place that I chose to live. I had my choice of colleges, and I chose here. I don’t exactly love living in the American South, what with its generalized disdain for erudition, but I’ve lived down here since 1991 and can’t really disclaim it anymore, can I?

My new job is in a virtual office, which means that I could do it from anywhere with an Internet connection. Even though I now have a choice, I have never thought seriously about moving from here. I would lose touch with a lot of really close friendships that I’ve made, most of them since my college days were done. [“They” say you make a lot of life-long friendships in college, and I have a few of those, but more of mine are from my MSMS days and then my post-college days.] I would move away from my alma mater, with its hockey program that I have dedicated a lot of resources to making known. Unless I moved to Nashville, I’d probably be farther from it, which would diminish my ability to see as many concerts as I’d like.

Finally, though, I realize that I’ve put down roots here because I bought a house here five years ago. I had held off on it for three years after college, not being sure that I’d be here semi-permanently. Being here five years means that I’ve lived in this dwelling longer than just one other place in my life: our home in Ohio. It’ll be a weird day in 2013 when I realize that I’ve been in this house longer than I’d been in that one.

I love the Huntsville area for a lot of reasons, but I believe that the main one is because I really know it, which is of course Kari’s original point. I know that it can be ridiculously hot here in the summertime: right now, we’re in a stretch of high-90’s F days with heat indexes well above 105F. The winters here are mild—actually, too mild for my liking. I love fall and spring, though. I love that there are two main thoroughfares, and that if you can find your way to one or the other, you can find your way home regardless of where you are in the area. I love that we have a huge replica Saturn V right alongside the Interstate. I love that this town helped to put a man on the Moon. I love that you can’t swing a dead cat in this town without hitting some kind of engineer. I love drives into the Appalachian foothills along the Cumberland Plateau.

I may eventually move away from this area, but it will always feel like home for me. I only have one other place like that in my life, and even southwest Ohio feels a little less like home every year.

Disjointed Thoughts on the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

Justin was tweeting about the oil spill this morning, and some of things that I wanted to respond to would take way more than 140 characters. So I’m here. Random thoughts (because I’m too sleepy to write long-form this morning):

  • I’m generally in favor of offshore oil drilling. I think that renewable energy has to be where we head towards, but in the short term, we have to take advantage of the energy sources available to us.
  • I’m an engineer, so my thoughts on this are largely as an engineer.
  • Drilling at deep depths is hard. The biggest issue is the pressure: 152 atmospheres. Wrap your head around that: 152 times the atmospheric pressure. For comparison, consider that it’s 1.3 atmospheres at the bottom of a swimming pool. You’ve been to the bottom of a pool, right? Just because you could? You felt that pressure. Up it by 100.
  • The other issue is the length. If you’re working from 5,000 feet away, well, that’s hard. That’s almost a mile away.
  • All of that to say this: you have to have redundant systems at that depth. Redundancy upon redundancy. It’s not quite going to space, but it’s close.
  • In space flight, we deal with factors of safety that are ridiculous. We also have to be two-fault tolerant: any piece of a subsystem has to survive two unrelated failures and still operate. That’s a lot of redundancy.
  • It doesn’t seem that this level of redundancy was built into the blowout preventer. In any case, looks like there were four separate problems with the blowout preventer. Don’t say, “Well you said it had to be two-fault tolerant!” Look at the issues: one is a true fault [a hydraulic leak] and the other three are poor design choices.
  • Why did I mention spaceflight preparations? Isn’t that a red herring? To me, no. The reason we have such redundancy in space is because it’s expensive to access space to fix the problem, plus you have limited up-mass to carry fixes up to orbit. It’s expensive and really hard to fix these things when they break. The same issues exist with fixing this oil gusher. It’s taken this long to attempt fixes because the fix has to be designed, then manufactured, then installed. Given that these attempts are in hazardous and limited working conditions, they are difficult to implement. You are far better off implementing good engineering practices in your design and implementation than you are in having to apply those principles on the fly when the shit has hit the fan.
  • The slow response to implementing fixes is largely due to the poor access to the gusher, plus the temperature and pressure issues associated with the fix [seawater freezing, etc.]. The fixes for these catastrophic events have to be planned after the events; you don’t just have these things laying around in a warehouse somewhere, waiting to be implemented.
  • The code names for these fixes—top hat, junk shot, etc.—sound silly. They are. It’s not management-ese, either; it’s engineers talking in codespeak. We do that, but so does every other culture. It sure does make for funny commentary on the news, though.
  • These are really hard problems, but no one really gives a shit if they are when the shit hits the fan. If you do your job right as an engineer, you should never get noticed. It’s only when shit hits the fan that you get noticed, and that’s never a good thing. Rarely are engineers who fix problems seen as heroes; the main example I can bring up is the Apollo XIII rescue.

I think the engineers involved need to be held accountable, with their jobs and financially. Do your damn job right, and this isn’t a problem. Don’t, and it is a big one. It’s easy to pillory the corporations involved—especially when BP’s CEO is being tone-deaf, comparing the amount of oil as small compared to the vast volume of the Gulf of Mexico—but past the PR blunders here is a far bigger problem: not enough engineering rigor.

A lack of engineering rigor is at the lack of most technological failures, but is particularly evident in all energy-related ones. Oil wells, coal mines, nuclear power generation and storage … most any time they go south, it’s a combination of human error and poor design. Almost always, it’s because someone cut a corner. The temptation to cut corners is strong, especially as engineers, as a general culture, are lazy people. We seek efficiency because it allows us more time for noodling, air hockey, and beer. That’s why accountability has to be there. In spaceflight, it’s two-fold: if we screw up, astronauts die and the space program as a whole is threatened. Would that all engineers were held to that standard.

Facebook, Open Graph, User-Generated Content, and Small Pieces Loosely Joined

Flickr’s Kellan-Elliott McCrea has a number of interesting thoughts about Facebook’s new Open Graph technology set, which seeks to make the Web even more social [as if it weren’t already, I guess]. One of them that struck me most is about identity:

Thinking about the various attempts to claim ownership of websites over the years, I think the last one that I implemented was Technorati’s and for the fiddliness of placing a badge on my site, I never got much value.

As someone’s who thinks about the role of identity on the Internet, it’s interesting to see these strong identity claims. As a pragmatist it looks like most web pages will be claimed by organizations not individuals. And as a developer on the “Open Web”, I can’t help but compare and contrast this approach versus approaches like Web Finger and the Social Graph API.

As a publisher it’s mildly interesting right now, a non-intrusive vanity plate that acts as hook into a well thought out API. This changes when the promised “coming soon” update to streams.publish lands, giving me access to the stream of anyone who has a relationship with the objects I own. Changes a lot.

I’ve given a lot of thought over the years to this identity thing on the Internet. I loved the concept of XFN when it first came out, but man, that was almost seven years ago. I bet even Matt Mullenweg has forgotten about it.

My raggedly-made point is that there is nothing truly new here. Facebook struggles with openness while being a semi-walled garden. Of course, we should all see the profit motive behind this for Facebook: by allowing users to draw the Web into Facebook, they keep users on the site more, learn more about their personalities, and can monetize that through ads. If that makes you a bit queasy, well, it does me, too. But it’s nice work if you can get it.

Reading as a Solitary Act

Kari wrote about what she believes in:

I believe in the power of stories, both fictional and non-fictional, to teach us the truth about the world around us.

She also shared the story of a father and daughter who read together every day for 3,218 consecutive nights. Kari has mentioned many times in the past how she and her husband read things together. I commented:

I’m really intrigued by the concept of reading together outside of the classroom or church situation. Really, I am. My parents really didn’t do that with me growing up, at least not so I can remember. I know that they read to me, but my earliest memories of reading are of Doing It Myself [insert foot stamp here]. Reading has always been a solitary act for me, and I think that’s why it’s been easier to shunt aside in adulthood, as I become more cognizant of my need to be with people for my mood and other reasons. Yet I am so enriched by reading that it makes me sad that this is so.

Since you’re a librarian, I feel you’re the best person to ask: How do you develop this skill of reading together? Surely you have to work on it with your kids.

I guess I’m a little struck by this as, late last night, I re-watched Dead Poets Society for some inspiration. There are so many things I love about that story, which is certainly based around the interactions that John Keating has with his students in teaching them to be free thinkers in the otherwise-rigid environment of a traditional all-male preparatory school. I think that one of the reasons that this resonates with me is that I studied [and loved studying, don’t get me wrong] aerospace engineering as an undergraduate. While some students make that a collaborative nature, I am, by nature, a solitary student. If I’m in a group, I’m usually leading it and/or teaching others. Mind you, leading and teaching are both passions of mine, but they can turn me into an insufferable asshole.

But what really strikes me is how this learning-and-reading-as-solitary-pursuit goes contrary to my nature as an extrovert. I often give copies [sometimes buying them] of books I’ve read to friends, intending that we talk about them after we’re done. Sometimes we do, but it’s usually just a fleeting conversation or two. That thought leaves me a little sad.

Of course, this concept now makes me want to have kids even more, because I want to read with them. I should’ve taken Liza up on her putting-me-to-bed schtick that she pulled the other week—seriously, the Granades’ younger one wanted me to put her to bed, which was both the most precious and intimidating thing she’s ever done around me—and read to her. I think that would’ve been really special. But at the same time, I didn’t want to take that quiet time at the end of the day away from Stephen or Misty.