The Thief in the Public Square

Automattic, the owner of both Tumblr and WordPress, admitted that they’re working with AI companies to sell their users’ creations to help train AI models. This site has been on WordPress for a long time, and moved WordPress installations between hosts at least twice.

This is so hard to take. So much of the web trusts WordPress with their work, and Tumblr users trusted it with their communities and art.

I’ve been thinking about how AI using content available on the web, regardless of its license, to train their generative models is different from search engines indexing our content in order to power their search products (and make money by selling ads around those results).

The difference is that search engines are directories, or maps, that take public data and use it to route people back to the source of that data. It’s a symbiotic relationship, where the publisher of that content eventually gets a potential reader/viewer/patron/customer pointed their direction based on a query that person put in the search engine. The original source of that content is still the destination.

Generative AI doesn’t do that. It gives no credit to their “inspirations” and no creator ever gets a new potential patron. Why? Because the original source is now just a signal that creates a mediocre knock-off based on it, and millions of other works, all created by people.

These companies are thieves in the public square, taking the property that others have created, giving them no credit, no way to make a new fan of their work, and producing knockoffs, polluting the world with… uninspired bullshit.

Can the entire world file a class action copyright lawsuit against these companies? How else do we tell them to make their models opt-in instead of opt-out, and make it possible to remove our content from their bottomless pits of copy pasta.

In other news, I need to migrate my blog off of WordPress, and I really don’t want to.

My Favorite Albums of 2023

I am apparently not in the musical consumption mainstream. I still love sitting down to a meal of an entire album instead of singles. I keep my playlist of favorites from the year still, but I love albums.

This year, I’m trying to avoid albums by artists I’ve called out in previous years, so even though they were great, no New Pornographers (but go listen anyway).

This post might grow as I listen to things from the year this week, but here’s my list of favorite albums of the year!

In no particular order:

  • Archimède: Fréres: They’re French, sing in French, and write super poppy songs you’ll sing along with even if you don’t understand a word they’re saying.
  • Nakhane: Bastard Jargon: Nakhane has a voice you can’t ignore, gorgeous and magnetic. It’ll pull you in, hold you close and then break your heart.
  • SUSS: SUSS: Like William Tyler, SUSS are writing soundtracks for movies that don’t exist, for sweeping desert vistas and alien cowboys. They make perfect music for deep work.
  • Killer Mike: Michael: This album is deeply personal and has the first hip hop song to ever make me cry.
  • Film School: Field: This band speaks to my early 2000’s indie soul. Fuzzy guitars, catchy tunes, and… just got get lost in it.
  • The Beths: Expert in a Dying Field: The Beths are new to me this year, and I’m sad it took me this long to discover them. They’re cute without being cloying, with amazing harmonies and very clever lyrics. Strong Dean & Britta or The Submarines vibes.
  • The Rural Alberta Advantage: The Rise & The Fall: I think this band invented Stadium Folk. It’s acoustic AND epic and you’ll probably love it.

And an honorable mention to Rubblebucket, who I discovered this year, but the album I fell in love with was last year’s Earth Worship, especially Geometry.

And another for Skinshape, who released one of the dreamiest songs I’ve heard in a long time, The Ocean. The whole album is great, but that song is just so old school dreamy soul, I think I listened to it on repeat for at least two days.

I wish you happy listening on this final week of 2023 and a thousand great musical discoveries for 2024!

Categorized as music

We are all made of star stuff

I don’t know if you watched Carl Sagan as a kid, but a friend shared this poem, and I was instantly transported back to watching him tell me I was made of star stuff when I was 6.

We have calcium in our bones,
iron in our veins,
carbon in our souls,
and nitrogen in our brains.

93 percent stardust,
with souls made of flames,
we are all just stars
that have people names.

93 Percent Stardust by Nikita Gill

Wrapping up National Blog Post Month

Between writing a blog post almost every day and going back to the beginning of this blog and re-reading stuff I wrote over twenty years ago, it’s been a bloggy month over here!

I only missed two days. I can live with that. I’ve blogged more this month than I have in years, and that was the whole goal.

My big learning from this experience is that social media really killed my blogging. If you look at the first few years of posts, I sometimes posted multiple short posts in a day and maybe one longer thing a week.

Now, I never write short posts. They’re all longer than a paragraph, and that’s what blogging means to me now, which I think is misguided and too inspired by more “professional” blogs. This is my personal space, and I should use it to post whatever inane nonsense is on my mind. It’s not a diary, but it is kind of a public journal of what I’m thinking about – a perennial first draft of things that might become something more professional in the future.

I need to give myself permission to post the first draft (sorry in advance), and be OK with it living forever(ish). Because that’s what blogging should be – the great empathy engine of the web. It’s our thoughts, our selves, out there for anyone to stumble across and get a glimpse of our lived experience. Whether you’re me, a cishet white male with serious dad energy, a writer in Minnesota, or a famous sci-fi author in Ohio, your life is worth talking about. Your thoughts are worth sharing.

I probably won’t post once a day, but I’m hoping I make blogging a habit again. Fingers crossed!

The expert is calling from inside the house

I’ve played product manager more often this year than I have in years. It’s been a fun role to get back into.

It’s also been a long time since I played product manager at a larger company. The last two times were tiny startups, and well, it’s a very different experience.

With tiny startup product management, I didn’t have a lot of internal expertise to rely on, so most of the research was external – I had to find people to talk to, find research, do a lot of research, and figure out how to validate assumptions.

A lot of that is similar in a larger company, but, the expertise is inside the walls at a larger company. I’ve had great results in all of my recent projects by just asking for folks who have expertise in big public Slack channels and they just appeared!

I think we frequently discount our own, and our peers’, expertise when doing discovery and research, especially our peers in customer support roles. I think that’s a huge mistake. Who talks to your customer more than the folks in customer support? Nobody. Who knows your product better than the people who have to support it? Pretty much nobody.

I was able to jump start onboarding to new subject areas a whole lot faster by asking our support teams about their processes and doing user interviews, just like I would with a potential customer, and that lead to some really interesting discoveries and avenues to explore.

So, don’t take your internal experts for granted! Ask them things! Praise them! Share your results back with them!

Categorized as work Tagged

Avoiding cynicism

I mentioned this last week, but while I’ve been fixing formatting issues on my old blog posts, I’ve made the mistake of reading some of them. Getting a glimpse of me 20 years ago has been interesting – he was so angry, usually about work, and talked about it a lot.

That guy was on the verge of burnout every other week, and I think he was actually burned out quite a lot.

I’m not angry about work anymore. I was last really burned out over five years ago.

I think if I’d kept going the way I was headed back then, I’d be a cynical burned out husk. I haven’t read beyond the beginning of 2003 yet, but I can’t wait to see when the switch flipped (having a “coming attractions” for my own past is pretty weird).

If you asked me right now how I avoid being a cynical husk, I think it comes down to my rules for working:

  • Never miss a chance to celebrate. We’re confronted with failure so often at work, that we should celebrate every little win.
  • Focus on the who and the how. We don’t control what we work on most of the time, and pinning our self-worth to the success or failure of the things we work on is a recipe for sadness. So, I no longer really care what I work on. I care about enjoying the people I work with, and focus on how I work. I can control how I work more than I can any other part of it.
  • Compete only with yourself. I try not to compare myself to other people. I’ve got my challenges and other commitments, and I know nothing of theirs. So, I only compete against Past Me™️ – which also helps make sure I’m constantly improving, even if it’s just a little bit.

That’s not a lot of rules… but they work for me. I might change them…

Categorized as work Tagged

First day back

I was off all last week for Thanksgiving, and I had a very hard time getting back into work mode… which I guess is the sign of a good vacation (even though we didn’t go anywhere).

On top of that, I’m prepping for a big allergy test, which means I’ve been off of all antihistamines for 5 days (and have 16 left to go… sign) and I am really starting to feel it. I’ve only got a couple days left of National Blog Post Month and I’m not going to stop so close to the end! The posts just might get dumber from here on out.

Football, no, the other one

I just searched my old posts for “soccer” and there are a bunch, but none about the Premier League and proper football.

I’ve been going through the 2,500+ posts on my blog, fixing things broken by moving platforms, and there are so many posts about American football. Jen and I used to Tivo all the games, watch for hours on Sundays and then the recordings throughout the week. We had Sunday Ticket and everything… for probably the first 15 years of our marriage.

And then we just stopped. We realized we were spending way too much time and money following a sport where we couldn’t balance out the long term health effects for players with watching it. So, we just stopped cold turkey. That was probably 10 years ago. And then we just kind of stopped paying attention to sports at all.

Until COVID. The Premier League was the first major league to come back, and Peacock not only streamed the games, but all the replays were there. So, I started watching and the spectacle of football played in completely empty stadiums where it was so quiet you could hear the players talking to each other. And I fell in love. The action is nonstop, no five minute commercial breaks every five minutes and the anticipation of misses and build ups – it’s just great.

Now I’m back into sports and back into football, it’s just the other football. I love that the games are on in the morning on the weekends. I love that I can pick up a replay whenever. I’ve been trying not to be so attached to it that I have to watch the matches live, but… I did get up and turn on Man City vs. Liverpool at 7 this morning.

It’s fun. I even love the video game version. And, I’ve gotten into the women’s game and the WSL thanks to the World Cup and Big Kick Energy (the best sports podcast in the world).

I think I can keep it under control this time. I probably only really watch 2-3 matches a week.

Nothing to say

Brian and I successfully accomplished Thanksgiving dinner yesterday, and today I’m very tired.

I think it’s because I’m in the “everything’s worn off” part of the prep for an allergy test that’s happening in a couple of weeks. No antihistamines means I’m a snotty tear-streaked mess, which is both a fashion no-no, and exhausting.

So, this is all I’ve got today. Hope you’re having a happy Black Friday if you celebrate.

The past is embarassing

This blog is twenty-something years old, and has moved blogging platforms at least three times, and between various WordPress installs at least another three times. Some of the older posts got messed up along the way, so I’m going back through them and trying to fix them.

Re-reading stuff I wrote from 2001 is… something. I talked way too much about work (this was before “dooced” was a verb). I don’t remember what exactly I was angry about back then, but I was often very annoyed and not good at not writing about it. I also posted a lot. I’d totally forgotten how short and frequent my post were back then, pre-Twitter.

I’m glad those posts exist, even the stupid ones. They’re fun to look back on and laugh at what I was excited about (like waiting for a new mac with a 60gb hard drive, and triple booting it – I also did a lot more compiling software than I do today). It turns out, 2001 was the year of linux on the desktop?

I think the saddest thing is how many of the links are now dead. Most of the blogs I linked to back then don’t resolve, or are for sale.

Rediscovering blogging has been the best part of , and I probably won’t ever top the 5 posts in one day I used to do in 2001, I’m going to try to post more regularly if only so I can look back in 20 more years at how stupid I was in 2023.