Extended Thoughts on a New Season of Whiskerino

((This isn’t going to interest you at all unless you 1) are a Whiskerooni or 2) enjoy watching me systematize things.)) Early last month, I wrote “On the Future of Whiskerino”, in which I argued for Whiskerino becoming a college-style system: you get four cycles and then you’re done. Here’s the key bit:

This will take some awesome talent from us right away, but the thing is this: we already have their great body of work to inspire us. Mackle himself pulls off some killer stuff, but he would be an alumnus this time around, as would (I’m going to miss people, don’t get mad): Ben Frank, Christopher Wood, Chad Pugh, David Bean, Jeremy Okai Davis, KC Jones, Ryan Hale, Stephen Major Chisholm. I got teary-eyed typing that list, because man, I love those guys. They’d be gone but not forgotten.

I was, of course, counting Beard Contest 2K3 in this; the first named-as-Whiskerino didn’t start until 2005. So we’ve had 05-07-09 with no 11; anyone who had participated in all three years would be a “senior”. This would give us a bigger senior class as well: “This gives you a final ‘senior year’ by names like Paragone, jandrewtaylor, damnweather, rnnbrwn, Paul Armstrong, Bobby Marko, and Falfa.” What a group that would be, no?

The question of people who’ve participated sporadically—say 05 and 09 but not 07—should be counted. I’ve come to the following thinking: they’re “juniors”, but they don’t get priority registration, but they would get help in finishing out the pool.

So let’s consider getting new people into the system. Say we have 137 returning people with unbroken progression through Whiskerino, and say Mackle wants to cap Whiskerino at 250 people. ((Both of those numbers are made-up, but I bet that the latter is closer to true than the former.)) To get a spot in the next Whiskerino—which seems destined to be 13 at this rate unless Mackle either 1) starts later or 2) goes on a mad coding spree in the next two weeks—you would apply. Everyone who applies gets a chip into the pool: wayfaring former members and newbies alike.

But.

If you’ve been a part of Whiskerino before but do not have an unbroken chain, you get an extra chip in the pool. People who have 05-07-!09 or 05-!07-09 have broken chains but two years in the system, so they get three chips and junior status if selected. One-year people—those who participated only in 05 or 07—get two chips.

Mackle would then set an application period of, say, seven days. Going back to my pool example earlier, there’d be 113 slots to be filled. Once the application period is over, Mackle would use a random number generator to select 113 applicants. Those who have more Whiskerino seniority have a better chance of being selected, but they have no guarantee.

Mackle could pick these people in advance of November 1st so that people could know who was going to be a part of the next Whiskerino. Old friendships could be re-kindled, and maybe there’s even a program to match old hands with the new students, sort of a mentoring program.

Or maybe this is an overly-wrought solution. But dammit, I want Whiskerino 13—better, 12, but I have no expectation of it.

On the Future of Whiskerino

Background: I was part of Whiskerino 07 and 09; I missed signup and shaving for 05 by one day. ((Let me assure you that I am still not over that.)) I won a King Beard in 2007 on a theme day that I did not participate in, because I am that awesome. I took a bunch of other funny and scary photos, including one that I really don’t want to explain to my family. ((I lied, because I want them to see it and freak out. That would be this one. I am the straight one in that photo, and the only reason that it wasn’t weird is because Daniel is that fucking awesome. Mackle let me post it, but he said, “Are you sure that you want that on the Internet, forever?” Yep.)) As such, I think that I have a little bit of credibility on this topic.

In 2009, Mackle (Michael Eades) said, “No more Whiskerinos after this one.” He shut down Mustache May, too, but because I look like an idiot with a mustache, I never participated, no matter how much Pip and Scrivener encouraged me to do so. I understood it: Mackle built this crazy community of creative people who, well, liked to grow beards and take photos of themselves doing so. If you’ve never gone deep-diving in the creativity sea that is Whiskerino, do so: the King Beard archive for 07 and 09 are things of beauty. It truly is a magnificent experiment in the quick-forming community of people with a shared interest in the Internet age.

But with much awesomeness comes much interest. The last two Whiskerinos came in around 350 people or so; if you know the Dunbar’s number concept, you know that’s too big. The 2009 meetup was just too much for me, so much sensory overload—for me, a raging extrovert, it was too much—that I ended up hanging out with just a few people and blowing off the later events to hang out with my friend Michael, whom I really wanted to spend time with and whose company was more important than pretty much everyone else’s. ((Sorry, Michael, you come in behind Scrivener, Drew, and jarcaines, but I got to see them for a bit, and I got to hang with you for a lot. I’d love to remember that name of the pizza place in East Nashville.)) I’m quite sure that Whiskerino being so big and unweildy is part of the reason that Mackle shut it down.

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I immediately thought, “What might come of this?” That sent me on a torrent of tweets ((Which surprises no one who follows me on Twitter.)) that start with the most important one:

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Whiskerino is Mackle. Mackle is Whiskerino. The site says it all: “Curating by Michael Eades.”

But it’s too big.

But it’s awesome.

But it needs new blood.

But.

The thought that came to me is this: make it like college. You get four Whiskerino seasons to make your mark; after that, you’re an alumnus and no longer get to grow and show with the community. This will take some awesome talent from us right away, but the thing is this: we already have their great body of work to inspire us. Mackle himself pulls off some killer stuff, but he would be an alumnus this time around, as would (I’m going to miss people, don’t get mad): Ben Frank, Christopher Wood, Chad Pugh, David Bean, Jeremy Okai Davis, KC Jones, Ryan Hale, Stephen Major Chisholm. I got teary-eyed typing that list, because man, I love those guys. ((I love you, Hale, and you know that. You are such a friend.)) They’d be gone but not forgotten.

Can’t we use them, though? Give them some super-user powers. Those that love the W’rino are going to want to stay involved. We’ve had fan sites before, and I could see clamebuting going on the side. Give the alumni accounts and let them vote on King Beards, maybe with twice the power of a regular user, and have them help stir up the community. Will it be harder with them not participating? Probably. These guys are veterans, though, and I’m sure that they, with their wide experience of growing and showing, can help push the community forward.

Of course, I only took eight people from a group of 350 to form some sort of alumni coordinating and curating committee of awesome-sauce, leaving almost as many as we started with. How do we sift through that? I think that Whiskerinos should be approached one class at a time to see if they want to have another go. This gives you a final “senior year” by names like Paragone, jandrewtaylor, damnweather, rnnbrwn, Paul Armstrong, Bobby Marko, and Falfa. ((I probably missed someone.)) If they want in, they get spots; if not, they’re out. Then you’d have “juniors” like me, Pip, etc. ((Pip is totally my fave Whiskerino of all time, even more than Hale, and I love Hale.))

Here’s the thing: you must have an unbroken chain; if you participated in 2005 but haven’t since, you don’t get priority.

Once everyone has elected to come back, Mackle then sets the pool size, which I’d suggest would bring in at least 50 new users. It would be best if it were 250 total beards, but I expect that 300 would be required given the large user base. ((I’ve not done a detailed analysis to see how many users this priority slotting system would roll up because I don’t have the data. Mackle, if you have the database and are willing to give it to me, I will run through the chains for you.)) Returning Whiskerinos get their chosen nickname and spot before November 1 comes around. ((Which keeps old-timers from having to email Mackle because they weren’t at their computers in the period of noon-12:30p Central.)) Each returning beard can get a before-shave photo up with comments about what they want to achieve, etc. Returning Whiskerinos can also help Mackle come up with theme days/weeks before the game’s afoot. If we have time to collaborate before November 1st, we can make Whiskerino even more awesome.

But.

But we still want new blood; after all, that’s why we’re letting some icons go, so that we may build new icons. Some of the craziest and best stuff in 09 happened from guys giving it their first go. That enthusiasm is infectious! and it makes the community all the better. So once the priority spots for returning Whiskerinos have been filled, and a pool size selected, it’s chum-in-the-water feeding frenzy from everyone else, including guys without an unbroken chain of growing-and-showing. ((Think of it as coming back to college after some time away; you have credits in-hand, but you’ve got to find your way in the system.))

I think that this is a workable solution, but I’m sure that Mackle will improve on it because, well, he’s Mackle. But spreading the curation load a bit may make the Whiskerino project something that he feels that he can renew, perhaps even for 2012. ((I know that this is asking A LOT of Mackle, but he’s clearly thinking about it.)) I know that it was very weird last November to not be shaving off my beard and hanging out online with a bunch of weirdos. But I love it so for reasons that I cannot explain. I just want more time with my bearded brothers. I want two more Whiskerinos for myself.

Please, Mackle?

[I’ve written more about this since this post.]

Bullet Points for a Mon … er, Tuesday Morning

  • Why is Labor Day not a day off for everyone? I mean, most everyone takes Christmas off, and not everybody in America believes in Jesus. But when it comes to a day that’s supposed to be about the working class and their struggles to make an honest buck, we end up … all going to shop and eat and make the working class work that much harder. It just doesn’t make any sense to me. [But hey, I worked some from home yesterday, too.]
  • All the drama around the Bengals just about has me ready to give up on them. No, the execrable 1990s Bengals didn’t make me give up on them. But the current personnel gaffes? I don’t know, man. I guess I believed in the Marvin Lewis Era, that maybe there were some adults coming to work here, but … sure doesn’t seem like it. It’s kinda sad. I mean, I don’t want to become a Titans fan.
  • I keep waiting for the same people that think a border fence is a good idea to think that a hurricane flood wall stretching from Brownsville to Key West is a good idea. I mean, look … if we can’t properly levy the Mississippi River to keep it from flooding, no damn wall is gonna work. But now that I’ve mentioned it, someone’s gonna think it’s a great idea.
  • Since I’m pretty sure of whom I’m voting for, I now just want to put the next two months on fast forward.
  • HDTV is evil, because it has me watching college football again. I’m just going to be disappointed. Maybe the Luddites have the right idea?
  • Gosh, I really don’t want to do anything today. But they don’t pay me to whine.

Will You Hold the Light for Me?

Five years ago, my life changed. Sure, our lives are changing all the time, and small, seemingly inconsequential steps are, in retrospect, life-altering things. Call it a butterfly effect if you will—beauty coming out of chaos.

Five years ago, I was single. Still am. Then I was 23 and fresh from college. I was pining after this girl—she’s all over my writings online from 2002, in ways that seem hard to believe now. [Like, I really thought the Internet needed to know all that? Really?] The week after I graduated from college, I got the royal stiff-arm, and well, I sought solace in a song from Caedmon’s Call: “Table for Two“, Derek Webb’s classic ode to singleness for Christian males in their mid-20s. None of that really matters all that much, and okay, maybe you don’t follow those links, huh? 😉

Anyhow. I distinctly remember the first time I saw [caedmonscall.net]: it was in searching for the lyrics for Tf2. At the time, I remember seeing a link for a forum of fans, but … well, I was leery of it. But come 1 Sep 2002, I dove in—because it was a slow day at work. [As I spent today doing a top-level review of hardware builds by our company in our general product category, I don’t know how I had slow days back then—but I had ’em.] I got hooked in pretty quick—by that winter, that community of people largely replaced the community of people that I interacted with in college. Sure, I still hung out with my roommates, but the community space that Bryan Allain built for Caedmon’s Call fans spoke to me. Heck, I gained awareness of Calvinism for the first time there. [Unlike many thinking Christians who come from a non-Calvinist tradition and come across my Reformed brothers, I didn’t buy their arguments. I do think, however, that they made me a better Methodist because they caused me to re-evaluate why I believed what I believe.]

Well, you know me. I can never leave well enough alone. I offered to help Bryan out with technical details, and suddenly … well, suddenly I was part of Bryan’s volunteer staff. It wasn’t something that I really sought out. I just fell into it. And then that Derek guy left the band for a while, and things hit this whole other level. We got to publicly break that news first [although lots of fans knew long before I did, because they were and are closer to the band than I’d ever hope or deserve to be], and from there, things just became … well, more important to me. What started as a time-killer became, well, a minor obsession. I quickly went from being the chicken at breakfast to the pig.

Of course, all that is preamble. As I’ve said, that community became terribly important to me for a while. It’s far less so now—I stepped back a year or two ago from day-to-day running the forum, although I still am the systems administrator for the server [with all the pain that causes me]. I was having that discussion with one of the few people with whom I am still close last week, and she mentioned that most friendships seem to have lifespans. I wanted to argue with her, but I think that she’s right. [She usually is, although I rarely want to admit it, and she rarely holds it over me when I do.]


Where the hell am I going with all of this? Well, okay, I’m name-checking a new song off of the CD with this entry’s title: “Hold the Light“. [Wanna hear it? I released an MP3 of it last night.] What always really gets to me is the bridge:

Standing round a willow weeping
We’re praying in the backyard
And the chill of the night, the friendship light reminded me
Who we are

I first heard the song in the context of my trip with Doug to Ohio in May. As he noted, we met up with Andy O then, and Andrew played us some Overdressed tracks and some of his Letters to the Editor, Volume I tracks before giving me a copy of the CD. “Hold the Light” is what struck me on my first listen, and it’s what does to this day: because it’s about a community of people gathering together to share good times, bad times, joys, and sorrows. Acquaintances help you move, and friends help you put your life back together when it’s gone to shit. We’re made for community, and while many in Christendom flail about with what community is, this is it—sharing life together, warts and all.

I’ve gotten a better sense of all of this through the last five years. I’m still learning and growing—and always will be, and will always need it.

15 Years Later, Maybe I Figured It Out

Last night, I broke out Eric Clapton’s Unplugged. At the time, I tweeted, “Breaking out Eric Clapton’s /Unplugged/. You may hate it, but this was 1992 for me.” As I listened to “Lonely Stranger”, I had a memory and a revelation. The memory: I had a line from the song, “Some will say that I’m no good / Maybe I agree / Take a look then walk away / That’s all right with me” in my MSMS application essay until Mom made me take it out. She had my best interests at heart, to be sure—I didn’t need to be the cocksure kid who didn’t care if he got into MSMS or not. [After all, they were really interested in taking kids who wanted to be there, because it was so damn hard. Honestly, I really wanted to be there, but man, I just didn’t care about shit at that point in my life.]

The realization was simple: I self-identified with “Lonely Stranger” because it was really the first time in my life where I didn’t have anyone close to me. I can count on one hand the number of people from my old high school that I even bother to keep up with anymore—and two of them are married to each other, which makes that easy enough. For people that know me now—the person who networks relentlessly, even putting together two folks a time zone away—you might be really surprised to see me back then. Sure, I was still my talkative self, but I rarely if ever truly engaged with any of those folks. Kari has often expressed some … well, I guess concern … about how I consider my life in Mississippi pre-MSMS from when we’ve talked about it. I think that she’s right to do so, but honestly, I think that a lot of it comes from the fact that I was first depressed there—without realizing it until years later—and so I associate all the crappy, negative stuff about myself with that place, which is neither fair nor healthy.

A Sad Day

Lately, I’ve found myself pretty much lacking in creative energy—and when I have the energy, I have no focus. These things happen.

But I write tonight not out of joy but out of sadness; my sister-in-law, Cindy, should have turned 35 today. As joyous of a day as Palm Sunday always otherwise is, my day today is certainly tinged with sadness. We know now what took her from us, but a how doesn’t give a why, not that we’d be likely to understand or accept it.

But we go on.

Off

I feel compelled to explain why I’ve just not made many tracks on the Internet lately, but … I guess that if you’ve followed along, you understand why.

I think that, like the rest of my family, I just feel pretty wrung-out right now. The hard part for me, I think, is that I’m usually such a verbal person, and when not verbal, I write. Words are how I deal with things and how I think things through. [Just yesterday, a colleague of mine—who is, himself, notoriously verbose—asked me to “use shorter sentences”. This was on a teleconference, so the co-worker on my end and I had a good laugh at that.] My way is certainly no better than any other; it’s merely what works best for me.

So when I’m at a point when the words don’t come easily, things are definitely sucking.

I think that part of the issue lies in the fact that I feel like I have to dam a lot of the flood of things going on in my head. I mean, for my brother’s sake, I should shut up and stop verbalizing all this crap, because, on the scale of things, we all know that his life’s been far more rocked than mine. And as with the passing of any family member, the absence of Cindy in our lives merely reveals the flaws in all other relationships, as those relationships become strained as we all struggle to cope with this new existence. But as with many such things, the strain also strengthens things. [You can take the boy out of mechanical engineering, but you can’t take the mechanical engineering out of the boy.]

But in the midst of everything else, well, my sleep pattern is radically off. I put some of that on environment—I never sleep well away from home—but that surely can’t be all of it. All I do know is that my body really struggles to know what time it is right now. [At work, all it knows is that it must be quitting time somewhere.] That’s just sapping anything else that I’ve got going, and it’s making me damnably ineffective at anything I try my hand at. Of course, that’s always a dangerous spiral, because I have this weird conception that, if I’m not any good at something, I just don’t do it. But right now, that’s being a bad negative feedback loop—not coming up to par on anything that I’m doing, I don’t feel like doing anything. And that, well … that’s bad.

So I’m trying to take it a step at a time—writing it out a bit, and also seeking to take some better care of my sleep habits with the idea that being rested will have positive benefits. Here’s hoping. [And if you’re saying, “Yeah, he wrote himself out of this even as he talked about writing out of things,” you’ve gotten the point. This is far more for me than it is for you. It’s probably only for you if you have to put up with me. :)]

An Update on the Jan 2007 Resolutions

Well, I’m officially breaking my make-to-be-broken resolution tonight; I’m behind enough on laundry that I won’t be laying anything out tonight for work. It’ll still be in various states of being laundered when I go to bed [an hour fast approaching, honestly]. In fact, it’s a strong possibility that I’ll be 0-for-3 on the resolutions, but … that’s okay. Doug called Dad and I “my right arm and my left arm, and most days, my right leg and my left leg” the other day. That’s enough for me. Silly resolutions pale greatly in comparison to being there when your family needs you. And boy, did we need to be there.

I take it as a matter of faith that y’all will respect the radio silence around here. I’m still finding words for the thoughts going around in my head. And all this feels very cheap to write, because, well … you know, I’m not Doug right now, who has a far heavier burden to bear. He’s not bearing it alone—thank God for that, quite literally—but it’s a heavy burden.

God? This sucks. But you didn’t promise us a bed of roses.

First Impressions

My, I’m out of the habit of writing here. I refuse to let GFMorris.com become only a set of all posts related to my 2006 resolutions!

Someone brought up first impressions today on the Rumor Forum, and I was reminded of something Stephen and Misty said to me about six months ago or so: that, at first, they thought I was a complete jerk, and that they’d never be able to relate to me. Now I’m over at their house at least once a week, and usually twice. In fact, when I mentioned earlier this week that I’d dropped in on the Creekmores on Saturday, Misty said she went all, “Awww, he usually comes here!”

While this entry is a vain, shameless attempt to get Misty to tell the story of their first encounter with me, I’ll note that I barely remember that they were there that night. What happened? Well, suffice it to say that the second Lord of the Rings movie was coming out the next night, so all the geeks gathered together to watch the first movie … the extended version on DVD.

For those who’ve never had the … “fun” … of watching a movie with me, let me tell you: since I suffer from Nerd Attention Deficit Disorder, the act of watching a movie and doing nothing else while watching it is anathema to me. When I watch TV at home, I am always doing something else: working on the server, writing, consuming feeds, something. Gilmore Girls is not able to get my full, undivided attention: mainly because I spend every episode writing Kari an email about every bit I do and don’t like about a show. [Mostly what I hate.] [[And Kari is a sweetheart not only for reading those emails, but responding to them. Have I told you lately that I love you, Kari? Totally in that “you put up with all the insane emails I send you” kind of way.]]

Anyway, yeah … Geof + movie + no distractions = FIDGETING. LOTS AND LOTS OF FIDGETING. The Granades, poor folks, were new to town, looking for friends, and they had to put up with my endless twitching through the movie that never ended. [Did I like it? It was … okay. Not my thing, really. I appreciate all the awesomeness, but I don’t enjoy it. I feel the same way about figure skating—I recognize that there’s a lot of skill and grace going on, but … meh. If folks are going to be on skates, they should have sticks in their hands and be chasing a puck. Just the same way, I have friends who find hockey fascinating but don’t enjoy watching it. C’est la vie.]

I’m aware that this is not the only instance of a bad first impression that I gave. I can easily get wrapped up in myself or whatever I’m thinking about, and I lose all self-awareness. [No, I haven’t read the bit in New Scientist about how the brain shuts down self-awareness when it gets overloaded that Marginal Revolution pointed to today … I’ve been too focused today to get to that. Okay, now I’m lying … because I linked to it, I decided that I had to read it really quickly.] Thanks to my NADD and all the crap I’m always thinking about—some trivial, some not—I am not very self-aware. Because of that, I know I make bad first impressions.

So, feel free to share your first impressions of meeting me in the comments. I won’t edit or delete a one of them. 😉